Even if you don’t have asthma, you probably know someone who does. In fact, as of 2009, about one in 12 people in the U.S. suffered from the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control. At the time, the organization noted that the number of people with asthma was growing, so it stands to reason that there may be even more people dealing with it today.
“Asthma is inflammation in your airways that can be caused by allergies, viruses, exercise, hot or cold air, and certain fumes,” explains Purvi Parikh, MD, an allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network. “Common symptoms are coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain,” she adds. If this all sounds familiar, Parikh encourages you to check in with your doctor to find out if that’s what triggers your symptoms. “Asthma still causes daily deaths in the U.S. in people of all ages and should not be taken lightly,” she advises.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to get treatment, including natural options. It’s important to note, though, that there’s a lot of research available on conventional treatments like inhalers, pills, and injectable medications but not as much on natural options. So if you have asthma and you want to try natural treatments, you should only do so under the supervision of your doctor.
Ahead, find the best evidence-backed ways to treat your asthma naturally, straight from doctors who deal with it every day.
Stay Away From Allergens and Irritants
Turns out if you have both asthma and allergies, one of the easiest ways to treat them both is to simply identify what you’re allergic to and stay far away from it. “Environmental allergens are a common trigger for asthma, though the specific allergens tend to vary from person to person,” explains Nicole Van Groningen, MD, an internist at the University of California, San Francisco. In fact, it’s pretty common to have both since they’re both manifestations of what’s called atopy, or the genetic predisposition to develop asthma, allergies, and eczema.
“Common inhaled allergens can include dust mites, animal danders, and molds. Respiratory irritants like tobacco smoke, chlorine-based cleaning products, and strong perfumes are also common triggers, though typically these aren’t true ‘allergies,’” Van Groningen says. “Controlling your exposure to allergens and irritants isn’t just a natural form of treatment, it’s a critical piece of asthma management.” It can be tough to determine your exact triggers on your own, so discuss them with your doctor to pinpoint exactly what you should stay away from.
And in the meantime, keeping a clean house and using unscented cleaning and beauty products can be super helpful.
Focus on Diet, Not Supplements
Many people wonder if supplements might be the answer to treating their asthma naturally, but Van Groningen says that as of now, there’s very little evidence for their benefits. “Although several supplements have been tested in asthma, there is no conclusive evidence that dietary supplements can reduce the signs or symptoms of asthma,” she notes. “The current trend is to focus on getting key micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—by upping your intake of natural food sources, particularly fruits and vegetables, as opposed to taking these compounds as supplements,” she says.
This is actually a pretty big trend in general in the medical community right now, according to Van Groningen. “Certain vitamins, minerals, and other biologically active compounds (like antioxidants) seem to be beneficial when they are ingested as part of a healthy diet, but not necessarily when they’re taken as supplements.”
Work on Your Nutrition
In a recommendation that goes hand in hand with the previous one, Van Groningen says that one of the best ways to treat your asthma naturally is to improve your diet. “It’s very likely that diet influences asthma. Asthma prevalence has increased in developed countries over the past couple of decades, and many experts think that dietary habits play a role in this, though we don’t yet understand the details of how this occurs,” she says. Though there are no definitive rules on what’s best to eat and avoid to improve asthma symptoms, there is limited evidence that eating a diet rich in vitamins like A, C, D, and E; various other antioxidants; and omega-3 fatty acids may help with asthma management, she explains.
“The best way to get these is through a healthy, balanced diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.” Looks like it’s time to cook up some fatty fish (like salmon). If you don’t eat fish, nuts, and seeds like walnut and chia are also good sources.
Avoid Common Food Allergens
Just as having an overall healthy diet can make a difference, skipping foods that are well known to be allergens for many people can be helpful, too. “Having asthma puts you at an increased risk of having a food allergy, and allergic food reactions can cause asthma symptoms,” Van Groningen says. “The best advice is to carefully avoid any known food allergens. Peanuts, eggs, and milk are common food allergens, but again, it’s unique to the individual, so knowing your triggers is key.” If you’re not sure if you have any food allergies, check in with your doctor about testing.
Another thing to avoid? Sulfites. That’s because there’s some evidence that this type of preservative can make asthma worse. “Sulfites are found in wine, dried fruit, pickles, shrimp, packaged or prepared potatoes, and some other foods. For some—but not all— asthma sufferers, reducing or eliminating sulfites can lead to major improvements in asthma symptoms,” she says.
Get Your Zen On
“Stress and heightened emotional responses may trigger asthma symptoms, and breathing exercises used in yoga have been found to combat these symptoms,” says Van Groningen. “One small study found that Sahaja yoga, which focuses on meditation, benefited some people with asthma. There probably isn’t anything ‘magical’ about this particular type of yoga. Anything that focuses on relaxation through breathing exercises may be beneficial.” So if you needed an excuse to try out that new yoga or meditation studio in your neighborhood, here it is.
It seems like drinking enough water can help deal with almost any health issue, and asthma is no exception. “Water is a vital part of keeping the lungs moist and working properly,” says Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. “Every time you breathe out, you lose water. When enough water is lost through the lungs, histamine kicks in to constrict the bronchial passages and increase mucus production to conserve whatever water remains,” she explains.
In plain terms, that means you’ll experience difficulty breathing. Luckily, there’s an easy fix. Make sure you’re hitting that half-your-body-weight in ounces goal, and you’ll be set.
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