Asthma Introduction

asthma2.jpg Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by spasm of the bronchi and bronchioles of the lungs. Also called our large and small airways, these two main branches of the trachea carry air in and out of lungs. Individuals with asthma have particularly sensitive airways that constrict in response to an external or internal trigger. The danger with an acute asthma attack is that the inflammation from a given attack may restrict an individual’s ability to breathe. Due to this, severe asthma attacks often become a medical emergency. However, with today’s advances in medicinal applications, asthma attacks are reversible and rarely fatal.

Asthma is divided into two different categories: extrinsic asthma and intrinsic asthma.

  • Extrinsic or atopic asthma is considered an allergic condition, where the immune system abnormally responds to allergens or antigens. Some extrinsic triggers include; pollens, animal dander, hair and saliva, dust mites, mold, foods (nuts, dairy, corn, citrus, wheat, yeast), food additives (dyes, preservatives, sulfites, MSG), or drugs (NSAIDs, aspirin).
  • Intrinsic asthma is non-allergenic and due to triggers such as toxic chemicals, climate (cold air, poor air quality), exercise, infection, nutritional deficiencies, infection (upper respiratory colds or flu), fumes (cigarette smoke, perfume, air pollutants, car fumes) or emotional stress. In both extrinsic and intrinsic asthma, the immune system reacts to an asthma-provoking trigger by releasing histamine and other chemicals that produce constriction, inflammation, and spasm in the respiratory tract.

Asthma Statistics

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (1):

  • 20.3 million Americans suffer from asthma.
  • 10 million Americans have allergic asthma.
  • 9 million American children under 18 have been diagnosed with asthma.
  • The prevalence of asthma increased by 97 percent among women, compared with 22 percent among men, from 1982-1996.
  • The prevalence of asthma increased by 75% from 1980-1994.
  • The rate of asthma increased more than 160% among children under the age of five, from 1980-1994.

Asthma Symptoms

The severity of asthma symptoms may vary according to the individual. Many asthma sufferers experience symptoms if they come into contact with their asthma trigger. Others may experience symptoms at different times of the day, if they get a cold, or after exercise. The major symptoms associated with asthma are:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • Coughing up phlegm

Asthma Treatment

With proper treatment and a self-management plan, asthma attacks can be prevented and kept under control. To help prevent an asthma attack, specific triggers should be identified and avoided whenever possible.

For relief of acute symptoms and prevention of exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), quick-acting bronchodilators (short-acting beta-2 agonists, anticholinergics, short-acting theophylline, and epinephrine) are prescribed. For long-term control of asthma, corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory agents) and long-acting bronchodilators (sustained-release theophyline and long-acting beta 2-agonists) are prescribed. Long-term corticosteroid treatment can have negative side effects, including depleting the body of vital minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.

A calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc deficiency may cause osteoporosis and should be supplemented during long-term corticosteroid treatment. Certain supplements can interact with asthma medications, so a health care professional should be consulted when combining the two.

Supplements helpful for Asthma

Vitamin B6 Studies show that asthmatic patients have lowered blood levels of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Asthma sufferers may find supplementary benefit with the addition of pyridoxine into the diet, as well as other B-complex vitamins (2, 3). Numerous studies report that theophylline-containing drugs, which are commonly used by asthmatic patients, may contribute to vitamin B6 deficiency (4-7). One study in particular demonstrated that vitamin B6 supplementation can also reduce the side effects of theophylline (8).

Multiminerals (Magnesium, Zinc, Calcium, Potassium, Selenium) As previously mentioned, corticosteroids are often taken by asthmatic patients and may deplete the body of certain essential minerals. Supplementation with minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc may be beneficial for asthmatic patients (9). Numerous studies show that magnesium helps relax bronchial smooth muscle. Its supplementation may also result in an improvement in lung function and a decrease in adverse symptoms experienced by asthmatic patients (10-15). Studies have also shown that zinc and selenium supplementation may have some therapeutic effect on these persons (16, 17). One study found that the intake of selenium has been declining in European countries and may be leading to increased rates of asthma (18).

Essential Fatty Acids (Fish Oil, Flaxseed Oil) Numerous studies show that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil and flaxseed oil provide certain anti-inflammatory effects, reduce asthma symptoms, and improve lung function (19-21).

Antioxidants (Beta_Carotene, Vitamin E, Vitamin C) Antioxidants help protect the lungs against free-radical damage and inflammation (22). Again, many asthma patients exhibit lower blood levels of vitamin C and, therefore, may have a greater need for vitamin C. Several studies show that supplementation with vitamin C improves asthma symptoms (23, 24). One study found that vitamin C, when combined with vitamin E, may help control asthma symptoms in patients who are exposed to air pollutants (25).

Flavonoids (Quercetin and Grapeseed Extract) Numerous studies have shown that flavonoids such as quercetin (a bioflavonoid) and grapeseed extract have potent antihistamine effects. Antihistamines prevent the release of histamines and other allergy-related chemicals, including leukotrienes and prostaglandins (26-30). Quercetin, or grapeseed extract, taken in combination with vitamin C has all been found to work synergistically to assist in the treatment of specific asthma symptoms (31).

Vitamin B12 Intramuscular injections of Vitamin B12 may help improve asthma symptoms (32). In particular, clinical study has found that vitamin B12 may be effective in treating sulfite-sensitive asthma patients (33).

Tylophora Asthmatica The botanical, Tylophora asthmatica, has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia in the treatment of asthma and other lung problems. Studies have shown that supplementation with both tylophora leaves and extract are effective agents in relieving asthma symptoms. Tylophora bronchodilator effects are, however, only short-acting (34, 35).


1. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI).

2. Reynolds RD et al. “Depressed plasma pyridoxal phosphate concentrations in adult asthmatics,” Am J Clin Nutr 1985 (41): 684-8.

3. Collipp PJ et al. “Pyridoxine treatment of childhood bronchial asthma,” Ann Allergy 1975 (35): 93-7.

4. Shimizu T et al., “Theophylline attenuates circulating vitamin B6 levels in children with asthma,” Pharmacology 1994 (49): 392-7.

5. Delport R, et al. Theophylline increases pyridoxal kinase activity independently from vitamin B6 nutritional status. Res Commun Chem Pathol Pharmacol. Mar1993;79(3):325-33.

6. Shimizu T, et al. Relation between theophylline and circulating vitamin levels in children with asthma. Pharmacology. Dec1996;53(6):384-9.

7. Tanaka I, et al. Serum concentrations of the pyridoxal and pyridoxal-5’-phosphate in children during sustained-release theophylline therapy. Arerugi. Oct1996;45(10):1098-105.

8. Bartel PR et al., “Vitamin B6 supplementation and theophylline-related effects n humans,” Am J Clin Nutr 1994 (60): 93-9.

9. Life Extension eds., Disease Prevention and Treatment, 4th ed. Florida: Life Extension Media, 2003.

10. Dominguez LJ, et al. Bronchial reactivity and intracellular magnesium: a possible mechanism for the bronchodilating effects of magnesium in asthma. Clin Sci (Colch). Aug1998; 95(2):137-42.

11. Skorodin MS et al., “Magnesium sulfate in exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmnary disease,” Arch Intern Med 1995 (155): 496-500.

12. McLean RM, “Magnesium and its therapeutic uses: A review,” Am J Med 1994 (96) 63-76.

13. Britton J et al., “Dietary magnesium, lung function, wheezing, and airway hyper-reactivity in a random adult population sample,” Lancet 1994 (344): 357-62.

14. Ciarallo L, et al. Intravenous magnesium therapy for moderate to severe pediatric asthma: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Pediatr. Dec1996;129(6):809-14.

15. Nannini LJ Jr, et al. Effect of inhaled magnesium sulfate on sodium metabisulfite-induced bronchoconstriction in asthma. Chest. Apr1997;111(4):858-61.

16. Miller, A.L. The etiologies, pathophysiology, and alternative complementary treatment of asthma. Altern. Med. Rev. 2001 Feb; 6(1): 20-47.

17. Brown, K.M., Arthur, J.R. Selenium, selenoproteins and human health: a review. Public Health Nutr. 2001 Apr; 4(2B): 593-9.

18. Shaheen, S.O., Sterne, J.A., Thompson, R.L., Songhurst, C.E., Margetts, B.M., Burney, P.G. Dietary antioxidants and asthma in adults: population-based case-control study. Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care. Med. 2001 Nov 15; 164(10, Pt. 1): 1823-8.

19. Hashimoto N, et al. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid in patients with bronchial asthma. Nihon Kyobu Shikkan Gakkai Zasshi. Jun1997;35(6):634-40.

20. Arm JP et al., “The effects of dietary supplementaion with fish oil lipids on the airway response to inhaled allergen in bronchial asthma,” Am Rev Respiratory Dis 1989 (139): 1395-1400.

21. Dry J et al., “Effect of a fish oil diet on asthma: Results of a 1-year double-blind study,” Int Arch Allergy Apply Immunol 1991 (95): 156-7.

22. Hatch GE, “Asthma, inhaled oxidants, and dietary antioxidants,” Am J Clin Nutr 1985 61 (Suppl):625S-30s.

23. Olusi SO et al., “Plasma and white blood cell ascorbic acid concentrations in patients with bronchial asthma,” Clinica Chimica Acta 1979 (92): 161-6

24. Bielory L et al., “Asthma and vitamin C,” Annals Allergy 1994 (73): 89-96.

25. Trenga, C.A., Koenig, J.Q., Williams, P.V. Dietary antioxidants and ozone-induced bronchial hyperresponsiveness in adults with asthma. Arch. Environ. Health 2001 May-Jun; 56(3): 242-9.

26. Bronner C, Landry Y. Kinetics of the inhibitory effect of flavonoids on histamine secretion from mast cells. Agents Actions. 1985;16(3-4):147-151.

27. Fanning, M.J., Macander, P., Drzewiecki, G., Middleton, E., Jr. Quercetin inhibits anaphylactic contraction of guinea pig ileum smooth muscle. Int. Arch. Allergy Appl. Immunol. 1983; 71(4): 371-3.

28. Fewtrell, CMS and Gomperts, BD. “Quercetin: a novel inhibitor of Ca2+ influx and exocytosis in rat peritoneal mast cells.” Biochim Biophys Acta. 1977 Aug 15;469(1):52-60

29. Maffei Facino R, et al. Procyanidines from Vitis vinifera Seeds Protect Rabbit Heart from Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury: Antioxidant Intervention and/or Iron and Copper Sequestering Ability. Planta Med. 1996;62(6):495-502.

30. Maffei Facino R, et al. Free Radicals Scavenging Action and Anti-enzyme Activities of Procyanidines from Vitis vinifera. A Mechanism for Their Capillary Protective Action. Arzneim-Forsch/Drug Res. 1994;44(5):592-601.

31. Pizzorno JE and Murray MT, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 266

32. Pizzorno JE and Murray MT, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 268

33. Anibarro B, et al. Asthma with sulfite intolerance in children: a blocking study with cyanocobalamin. J Allergy Clin Immunol. Jul1992;90(1):103-9.

34. Atal CK, et al. Immunomodulating Agents of Plant Origin. I: Preliminary Screening. J Ethnopharmacol. 1986;18(2):133-41.

35. Pizzorno JE and Murray MT, eds. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, revised 2nd edition, CA: Prima Publishing, 1998: 270

36. Stoppard M. Family Health Guide, New York: DK Publishing, 2002.

37. Balch JF, and Balch PA. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 3rd ed. New York: Penguin Putnam Avery, 2000.


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