breath is never more precious than when you have to struggle for it. But the steroid drugs used to treat asthma may have nasty side effects and your doc might not tell you about further treatment possibilities. According to alt health folks, an anti-inflammatory diet, gentle exercise like tai chi or yoga, regular relaxation and the development of better stress management skills can help deepen an asthmatic's breath.
There are also natural treatments that may, according to their practitioners, reduce or eliminate all symptoms and the need for drugs. These are classical homeopathy and a relatively new therapy, Nambudripad's allergy elimination technique (NAET). Neither puts you at risk of drug interactions. Unfortunately, neither is covered by OHIP either, but practitioners of both say that in most cases they deliver excellent results within a $350 to $1,500 price range.
Asthma can easily be a matter of life and death, so you must take safety precautions if you decide to go the holistic route. Don't go off your pharmaceutical medications. The idea is that as you get stronger from the inside out, you'll reach for your puffer less and less often.
Don't self-prescribe supplements, especially herbs. If a holistic practitioner suggests supplements or herbs, make sure you inform him or her, and your doctor, of everything you're being asked to take, and have both sides check carefully into the possibility of interactions.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"Conventional treatment is steroid-based. These drugs are very toxic. Homeopathic medicines have no side effects. Classical homeopathy matches one or two medicines to a person's overall symptoms, personality and everything that makes that individual unique. You can clear up asthma in two to three visits. This would cost about $300, plus ($30 to $40 in) medicines. Asthma patients tend to suffer from high anxiety. Depressed people have more attacks, as do people who tend to be introverted and pessimistic. Anything that brings negativity to the body makes you more susceptible."
DANIEL LUPU , homeopath, Toronto
"The major causes of asthma are allergic reactions to foods, dust, pollen, mould, animal dander, tobacco smoke, chemicals and vehicle exhaust. Nambudripad's allergy elimination technique is a non-invasive, drug-free approach to eliminating allergies, using a blend of procedures from acupuncture, acupressure and kinesiology (muscle response testing). We train the immune system to reinterpret each allergen as acceptable. Normally, around 90 per cent of asthma patients treated with NAET get relief from their symptoms. Most get total relief, some get partial. Some don't use an inhaler any more, and some use it much less. For an adult it usually takes 25 to 30 treatments; kids need fewer. Normally, we charge $60 for one session. The younger you are when you get the treatments, the better the results."
PETER GAO , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, NAET practitioner, North York
"You have to become desensitized to your triggers, and that requires professional help. But lowering your inflammatory threshold can be done at home. Strongly pro-inflammatory foods are heated vegetable fats and animal fats from dairy, sausage, etc. Anti-inflammatory foods are green leafy vegetables, berries, anything that contains vitamin C. Take about 500 mg of vitamin C a day. Fish oil strongly lowers inflammation. Meditation helps. It is possible to focus your mind on lowering inflammation. Relaxation is strongly anti-inflammatory. Yoga has specific breathing exercises for asthmatics; see a qualified teacher. One of the most effective treatments for asthma is homeopathy."
DOROTHY ADAMIAK , naturopathic doctor, Toronto
"Asthma involves an immune system deficiency (caused by) genetics or an underlying condition such as a cold or flu that never completely resolved. (Research has proven) that acupuncture can address overproduction of mucus, airway hyper-responsiveness and bronchial passage inflammation. If you take Western medications you need to check carefully with your traditional Chinese medicine practitioner and doctor to ensure that the medications and any herbs prescribed don't interfere with one another. Start treatment several weeks before the spring and fall months, and continue throughout these seasons."
MEY VON MOLTKE-PAO , practitioner, traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto
"We only advise people based on what is scientifically proven. I don't think there's any research to prove the idea of anti- and pro-inflammatory foods. There isn't a cure for asthma. Maybe someday down the road there might be some gene therapy. By watching exposures to known irritants and allergens, you can be symptom-free. If you can be symptom-free for several months, your doctor will likely take you off your medication but maybe leave you with your reliever. (Even then), pulmonary function tests might show that your airways are still twitchy. People can talk to our certified asthma educators at 1-800-668-7682."
SHELAGH FINLAYSON , manager, asthma education programs, Ontario Lung Association, Toronto