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Understanding Asthma & The Root Causes

Written by

Deborah Freudenmann BHSc

Asthma is one of the most common chronic inflammatory disorders affecting the air passages. Atopic diseases are a group of diseases linked by a shared underlying problem with the immune system. Asthma is one of the atopic diseases – including eczema and allergic rhinitis. That’s why most individuals who show one form of these atopic diseases like asthma also suffer from eczema for example.

The inflammation present in asthma is understood as being drive­­­­n by airway hyper-responsiveness, which may lead to longer term airway remodelling and potential long-term damage.

The incidence of asthma is increasing at an alarming rate across the globe. Depending on the severity of asthma, in extreme cases the disease can have a significant impact on your quality of life. The good news, asthma is usually reversible! 

Here is a detailed discussion about the causes and risk factors of asthma and how the functional medicine approach could provide relief from this condition.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma refers to a condition caused due to the narrowing of the airways usually accompanied by swelling and excessive production of mucus. One of the main features is the development of a particular immunoglobulin (IgE) directed against allergens that are usually harmless. Individuals who suffer from asthma can have very sensitive airways which become inflamed when exposed to triggers.

Although the symptoms vary from person to person asthma is characterized by:

  • Difficulty breathing – feeling breathless even while resting
  • Wheezing – making a whistling sound when breathing out
  • Coughing – can often be weather dependent or through exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Tightness in the chest


Sometimes asthma can flare up and symptoms can become worse compared to normal, this is known as an asthma attack. Asthma attacks can feel like you’re hardly getting any air into your lungs and have to breathe very deeply to try get even just a little oxygen into your body. During a severe asthma attack, it is normal to feel very distressed or exhausted trying to breathe.

Conventional asthma inhalers are necessary when asthma is severe. This article is not about the conventional treatment of asthma but rather about understanding the root causes of asthma and what you can do.

Development Of Atopic Asthma

Atopic disease occurs when the immune system is dysregulated, resulting in allergic inflammation. Various internal and external factors determine the dysregulation and the development of an atopic disease.

In the first few years of life when the immune system is just developing, you are particularly susceptible to being directed towards the development of an atopic disease. However, this isn’t just relevant to children, given that adults can also manifest atopic disease after a change in environment or chronic stress for example.

This is where the hygiene hypothesis stems from, which suggests that a more hygienic environment and fewer infections may be an important reason why there is an increase in atopic disease. According to this theory, too much hygiene or early avoidance of possible things that can cause an allergic reaction increase risks of atopic disease. Why? Because you actually require the exposure to an allergen in order for your immune system to develop properly. Of course, there is always further understanding required to fully comprehend the ins and outs of the development of atopic conditions like asthma.

What Triggers Asthma?

An attack of asthma is triggered when the immune system reacts to allergens in a hypersensitive manner. It is an allergic disorder, which means asthma is caused due to the hypersensitive reaction of the immune cells to certain substances to which the person is allergic.

The immune cells perceive these allergens as ‘threats’ and activate a response causing narrowing of the air passages and excessive mucus secretion due to which the patient develops an attack of breathlessness.

Here are the common factors known to trigger the attacks of asthma.

Environmental factors

Exposure to environmental factors such as dust and air pollutants are a major cause of asthma. Exposure to extremely cold weather, inhalation of fumes or smoke, or the smell of perfumes may also trigger an episode of breathlessness in patients who are sensitive to these substances. Some other airborne allergens include pollens, pet dander and mold spores. As mentioned above, a lack of exposure to environmental triggers from a young age can also be a reason why someone develops this condition.

Digestive and dietary factors

An increased prevalence of poor gut function and increased intestinal permeability is associated with asthma. In children (as well as adults) an imbalance in the gut microbiome during a critical period of development may cause asthma, allergies or other immunological disorders. Some foods are known to trigger asthma by causing stimulation of the immune system. In fact, food allergies and intolerances can induce airway hyper-responsiveness. The common dietary triggers for asthma include eggs, dairy products, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish, monosodium glutamate, tartrazine and sulfites have all been implicated.

Nutritional deficiencies

Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to the development as well as worsening of asthma. This is usually correlated with the gastrointestinal issues and thus inadequate digestion. Not surprisingly, with poor digestion and absorption of nutrients this can affect the development and severity of asthma. As it is believed that asthma and vitamin deficiencies are integrally linked. Nutrient deficiencies in particular B vitamins, Vitamin C, D and E, magnesium, potassium and fatty acids are commonly found in asthma cases.

Methylation issues

Research studies have confirmed that there exists a distinct link between asthma disorders and poor methylation. DNA methylation is also linked to increased severity of asthma attacks. It has been found that insufficient methyl groups or methyl donors result in individuals overproducing and retaining histamine. High histamine levels are related to allergies and asthma. When you connect the causes, if you suffer from nutritional deficiencies or struggle with the absorption of nutrients – you could likely be deficient in the nutrients required for proper methylation.

Liver stagnation

Inefficient liver functioning might contribute to the development of asthma as it can reduce the body’s ability to clear away toxic chemicals and harmful metabolites.
It may also slow down the elimination of histamines secreted by the immune cells due to which the attacks of asthma may persist for a longer duration.

Stress and nervous system dysregulation

Not many people know that mental stress can cause abnormal stimulation of the immune system due to which a person may get an attack of breathlessness.
Mental stress can cause disruptions in the functions of the nervous system due to which the balance of hormones in the brain is affected. It may lead to changes in the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and feel-good hormones such as dopamine and serotonin.
The abnormal levels of these hormones can trigger a chain of reaction resulting in the narrowing of the air passages and faster breathing leading to asthma.
Chronic stress can also deplete methyl groups, which then can lead to poor methylation.

Metabolic syndrome

The risk of asthma is higher in people who suffer from metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Metabolic syndrome has also been demonstrated to worsen the severity of asthma attacks.
The 2 major components of metabolic syndrome including a high waist circumference and increased blood glucose levels have been found to be associated with an increased risk of asthma, especially in adults.

The Role Of Functional Medicine In Asthma

Address the root cause

The functional medicine approach is aimed at eliminating the root cause of asthma by avoiding the exposure to these triggers.
It is important to start by identifying the triggers that impact your asthma development. This can be done by keeping a diary of your symptoms. Once the triggers are identified, you can start to minimize or eliminate the exposure to these factors to prevent asthma progression. Of course, factors such as the health of your gut microbiome may take longer to address but in the long term can lead to dramatic changes.

Reduce the inflammatory cascade

Reducing airway inflammation in asthma will improve symptoms and assist in moderating disease progression. The release of pro-inflammatory substances like cytokines by the immune cells can worsen the swelling in the respiratory passages and make it more difficult for you to breathe. This can be supported by minimizing inflammation in the airways as well as the entire body by implementing specific anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, boswellia, and astralagus as well as nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin C, A, E, zinc, and quercetin.

Immune system regulation

Immune dysregulation is another key feature in asthma. Therefore, strengthening the immune system is very important – this will consequently help restore the lung homeostasis by reducing the severity of trigger reactions. Including nutrients such as vitamin C, zinc, quercetin can help regulate the immune system functions and reduce the exacerbated response of the immune cells to allergens. Improving overall diet to support immune function can also help to minimize the attacks of asthma.

Enhance oxygenation and bronchodilation

Ozone therapy is a surprisingly unknown but beneficial therapy for asthma. Ozone has the ability to alleviate bronchospasms which occur due to the dilating effects on smooth muscle. Ozone is also able to remove tissue hypoxia, which always develops in individuals with asthma due to pulmonary insufficiency.
An increase in oxygen supply leads to the normalization of organs and systems, in particular the immune system. This has a knock-on effect as the stimulation of the immune system facilitates the suppression of the inflammatory process. The anti-viral and anti-bacterial effects of ozone are also of great importance, specifically if this has been a continuous root cause into adulthood. Recommended methods of ozone therapy include rectal ozone insufflations, major autohemotherapy if possible, or inhalation of ozonides through oil.

Want to learn more about Ozone? Click here 

Managing the allergy response

Managing the allergy response through mast cell stabilization is one of the most effective ways to derive quick relief from asthma attacks. It can be achieved through the use of herbs such as Albizia lebbeck which stabilizes mast cells. Quercetin, not only supports the reduction of inflammation but is also useful and effective for its anti-allergic properties.  

 

Consider the digestive connection

A weak gut flora might cause disruptions in the immune system functions and increases the risk of allergic disorders like asthma and dermatitis. You can achieve long-term relief from asthma by adopting strategies to enhance gut flora.
Eating a nutritious diet and the use of probiotics could be beneficial for improving the diversity of gut flora. This would strengthen your immunity and reduce the attacks.

Modify the diet

Identifying and eliminating allergens from your diet such as dairy products and wheat is the key to avoiding asthma attacks. You should also eat a nutritious diet that contains an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals to boost your immunity and support pulmonary functions. This can be achieved by implementing a Mediterranean diet which includes lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, protein and healthy fats and oils.

General lifestyle advice

  • Avoid mental stress
  • Perform cardio exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling
  • Sleep well
  • Avoid smoking and any other environmental toxins (especially synthetic fragrances)
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Eat a healthy non inflammatory diet

Conclusion

As you’ve seen, there is so much more to asthma than just the respiratory tract or the restricted airways. Asthma just like any other condition requires a functional and holistic approach which takes into account the entire individual. It is possible to prevent the attacks of asthma and ultimately removing asthma altogether by identifying the root causes. Taking steps to heal the previous damage and restoring optimal function is not out of reach.

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  • 2 Responses

    1. Deborah, this is the most comprehensive, logical and supportive article I have read about asthma. You cover all areas at a grass roots level that allows us to have a full understanding of how to change lifestyles without the intervention of prescription drugs and work positively at managing this condition on a daily basis.

      1. Hello Margie, what incredible feedback! Thank you. Asthma is certainly a manageable condition! Once the root causes have been established, you can take positive steps to improving asthma and your overall health. Much love

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