By Dr. Richard Jensen, PhD
Asthma is usually defined as a more severe form of allergy which can impair lung function in some people. As with allergies, it is caused by our immune system responding improperly to otherwise harmless substances in our environment. If these substances are mistakenly recognized as harmful by the immune system, they are termed allergens. Many inhaled allergens cause symptoms of coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing. These are symptoms of bronchial asthma, which is the leading cause of chronic illness in children. Some asthma can be also caused by non-immune reactions, including: cold, drugs, and even exercise. You may think that antihistamines are used to treat asthma, since histamine is a main cause of inflammation and breathing problems during an asthma attack. However, asthma is usually treated with either steroids or stimulants, as will be explained below. A good reason not to take antihistamines during an asthma episode is that they can cause drowsiness, which may lead to misjudging the severity of the asthma attack. One study found that driving after taking the first-generation antihistamine Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can cause impairment equivalent to driving drunk.
Instead of antihistamines, many people take bronchodilators (stimulants) to open up their airways during an episode of asthma. However, this too is increasingly being discouraged. Overuse of bronchodilators can cause drug tolerance, which means a person must use more and more of the inhaler to get the same airway-opening effect. In some cases, when a person really needs the bronchodilator to work, it may not, and the person can die. In fact, asthmatics that frequently use bronchodilators are more than twice as likely to die from an asthma attack as asthmatics that don’t use a bronchodilator. Steroids are an alternative to bronchodilators. They can reduce airway inflammation considerably, but have well-known side effects such as yeast overgrowth in the throat (thrush), osteoporosis, and eye problems, including cataracts and glaucoma.
Fortunately, there are many different nutrients that can help relieve allergies and asthma. Vitamin C indirectly inhibits inflammatory cells from releasing histamine. A magnesium deficiency can aggravate asthma, and so supplementing with magnesium may help this condition (do not take more than 500 mg/day of magnesium). Unfortunately, many allergy medications lower magnesium levels. Some nutritionists and doctors believe that taking vitamin B3 (niacin) is useful for people with severe allergies. Niacin releases histamine, often causing a reddened facial flush soon after the vitamin is ingested. Repeated dosing with niacin may eventually lower the body’s stores of histamine. In theory, this may then lower the intensity of any allergic reaction and/or asthma attack in the future. As you have read from the information above, there are many natural alternatives for drug use to control allergies and asthma. A person with allergies and/or asthma has to work hard to find the sources of their condition, but in the end it is worth their time and effort.