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Vitamins and Supplements That May Help Asthma
Asthma attacks can be very severe, and the respiratory disease requires constant vigilance to avoid known triggers. While corticosteroids and other conventional drugs are commonly prescribed for asthma patients, they do produce severe side effects and are not recommended for long-term use. Natural supplements, on the other hand, are safe for long-term use and in many cases, they are just as effective. Read on to discover the vitamin and supplements that can help reduce your dependence on asthma drugs.
by Brad Chase
Asthma is a common inflammatory disease that affects the airways causing the obstruction to airflow and spasms in the bronchioles. Asthma is a chronic disease and it is characterized by these key symptoms: cough, wheezing, tightness in the chest and shallow breathing.
Asthma symptoms are usually at their worst during the night or early in the morning. Furthermore, these symptoms become worse in the presence of asthma triggers, during exercise or on exposure to cold air.
There are other disorders that are closely associated with asthma. For example, the breathing difficulty and airway obstruction caused by asthma often leads to sleep disorders. In addition, 4 out of 5 asthma patients also have gastro-esophageal reflux disease.
It is also possible for another disorder to be the root cause of asthma. For example, researchers have proven that asthma symptoms appear and worsen for every 20% increase in body-mass index. Clearly, fat accumulation promotes inflammatory responses in the body and also reduces airflow through the breathing passages.
However, the major causes of asthma are environmental and genetic factors.
In most cases, both factors are at play, and their interplay determines the severity of an asthma attack as well as its response to drugs.
Since asthma is an inflammatory disease, people with a high risk of diseases involving allergic reactions also have a high risk of developing asthma. The most important causes of asthmatic allergic reactions are indoor allergens such as dust and house mites.
Outdoor air pollutants are the most important causes of childhood asthma. However, respiratory infections caused by viruses can also significantly increase the risks of asthma in children.
Asthma has no cure but it can be managed well enough to prevent the occurrence of severe symptoms.
In most cases, preventing asthma attacks by avoiding known triggers is the best treatment protocol for asthma. To this end, lifestyle modifications should be adopted to stop smoking, discontinue drugs that trigger asthma and avoid sites of air pollution.
Indoor triggers can be eliminated by vacuuming, by air filtration and by chemical pest control of mites.
Asthma drugs can either be short-acting (to provide immediate relief of symptoms) or long-acting (to provide sustained control of symptoms). The first class of drugs are usually delivered with inhalers and nebulizers so that the drugs can immediately act on the lungs and breathing airways.
However, there are natural remedies that can also effectively manage asthma symptoms.
These natural remedies include vitamins, minerals and natural supplements. The most effective of these natural remedies are discussed below.
A 2000 study published in the Turkish Journal of Pediatrics investigated the link between antioxidant vitamins (vitamins A, C and E), lipid oxidation and asthma.
The study involved 14 children with asthma and 12 healthy children. The kids with asthma were studied during their asthma attacks and during remission.
The results of the study showed that the levels of all three antioxidant vitamins were lower in the asthmatic kids than the normal kids.
These sub-normal levels were, however, not only observed during asthma attacks. The vitamins were even present in lower concentrations during remission even though the remission levels were higher than the levels of the vitamins during the asthma attacks.
In addition, the study showed that the levels of lipid peroxidation remains similar in both asthma kids and healthy ones. Therefore, antioxidant vitamins most likely improved asthma by some other mechanisms beyond simply preventing the release of pro-inflammatory lipid peroxidation metabolites.
A 2009 study published in the journal, Thorax, also reached similar conclusions.
This study was a systematic review of 40 past studies done on the subject. The meta-analysis showed that the levels of all vitamins were reduced in asthmatic patients. In addition, low dietary intakes of vitamins A and C were linked with an increased risk of asthma.
Vitamin C is one of the antioxidant vitamins that studies indicate can help reduce the severity of asthma.
However, there is no consensus about whether vitamin C works or not. Some studies conclude that vitamin C does relieve asthma symptoms while some indicate that it provides no benefits.
Still, it is easy to see why vitamin C might be beneficial for asthma sufferers. Its antioxidant property protects the body from the harmful effects of free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Therefore, it aids tissue repair, boosts immunity and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.
There are indeed clinical cases in which asthma patients got better with vitamin C supplementation.
One recent study that supports the use of vitamin C in the management of asthma was undertaken by researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland and Tanta University in Egypt. The study participants were children aged 7 – 10 and the asthma indicator measured was FEV1 (forced expiratory volume per one second).
The study results showed that vitamin C can increase FEV1 levels in children who have been regularly exposed to known asthma triggers such as molds or damp. However, the benefit was greatest in younger children.
This study showed that while vitamin C was effective in asthma management, its benefits vary between different patient groups and that further studies are needed to determine who can benefit the most from this vitamin.
Other studies have reached similar and different conclusions regarding the importance of vitamin C in asthma management. Some of these conclusions are:
Although, many studies in the past have suggested that Vitamin D may contribute to outcomes in asthmatic patients, it is only recently that researchers have closely investigated this link.
In one review published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in 2010, researchers analyzed 40 years’ worth of these preliminary studies into the role of vitamin D in asthma and concluded that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for the respiratory disease.
In that review, the authors stated that vitamin D deficiency was strongly associated with
The reviewers further suggested that vitamin D may relieve asthma attacks by its anti-inflammatory effects which involve increasing the production of interleukin-10 and cutting off the cascade reaction that produces the cytokines that cause inflammation.
Since the body makes its own vitamin D in the skin from exposure to sunlight, vitamin D deficiency is common during the winter months. Coupled with the cold experienced during those months, it is no wonder that asthma attacks are reported more often during winter.
Another study also published in 2010 but in the Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology arrived at the same conclusions.
The researchers combed through the health records of 100 asthmatic children and noted that about half of them had vitamin D levels lower than the normal values.
In addition, the researchers discovered that the vitamin D deficient asthmatic children had the worst asthma attacks, used more medications, were more susceptible to allergens and had poorer lung functions that the rest of the group.
The study also showed that the children with the lowest vitamin D levels had the highest concentration of IgE, the immunoglobulin most associated with inflammation and allergic reactions in asthma.
In additon, this study further revealed that low vitamin D levels also strongly correlated with low FEV1 levels.
Lastly, the researchers were able to demonstrate that vitamin D supplements can improve the effectiveness of the anti-inflammatory corticosteroids used in asthma treatment. Therefore, asthmatics who have developed some degree of resistance to these corticosteroids can strongly benefit from both the direct and indirect benefits of vitamin D.
These conclusions were also echoed by a 2012 study published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
Of the B vitamins, vitamins B6 and B12 are the most important ones in asthma management.
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins in the body. It is needed for the syntheses and activities of RNA and DNA, cellular metabolism and the production of red blood cells. But it is its effect on the immune system that makes vitamin B12 an excellent supplement for asthma patients.
While there are no studies supporting the use vitamin B12 in this way, there are clinical cases in which vitamin B12 injection improved the outcomes of chronic asthma.
One of the evidences supporting the use Vitamin B6 in asthma management comes from a 1975 study involving 76 asthmatic children who were given 200 mg of vitamin B6 daily. The results of the study showed that vitamin B6 improved asthma symptoms and also led to dose reduction in the bronchodilators and cortisone taken by the children during the study.
The researchers suggested that vitamin B6 worked by removing the metabolic block to tryptophan metabolism which is a known cause of severe bronchial asthma. However, large doses and long-term therapy with the vitamin is required.
Magnesium is one of the thoroughly studied nutritional supplements in the management of asthma.
Some of these studies have established that low magnesium consumption increases the risk of developing asthma. Other studies have taken the conclusion a bit further and tried to establish if magnesium supplementation can improve asthma symptoms.
The effect of magnesium salts on bronchospasm is also well documented.
Magnesium sulfate is commonly used as a natural and safe bronchodilator. It acts by relaxing the bronchial smooth muscles to allow increased airflow.
In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Asthma, the researchers gave 52 adult patients with mild to moderate asthma a daily dose of 340 mg of magnesium citrate or placebo for six and a half month. The results showed that the lung functions of the patients in the magnesium group improved significantly and that the patients had better asthma control.
Even though magnesium improves long function, different studies have shown that it does not affect FEV1 levels or even the production of inflammatory proteins.
Asthmatic patients can receive magnesium as an oral supplement, in nebulizers and as an intravenous infusion.
Selenium is an antioxidant supplement that has been proven useful in asthma management. Besides its antioxidant effect, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect that is most useful is asthma therapy.
The key role of selenium in the body is the maintenance of glutathione levels. It is no wonder then that different studies show that selenium and glutathione levels are lower in asthma patients than in healthy people.
Selenium is necessary for the enzyme, glutathione peroxidase which can disrupt the arachidonic acid cascade that leads to the production of leukotrienes. Therefore, selenium can prevent the accumulation of these pro-inflammatory leukotrienes, and therefore, reduce bronchial inflammation.
The available studies show that selenium supplementation does not improve lung functions in asthmatics but it can improve the quality of life of the asthmatic patient.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known as anti-inflammatory supplements. The Omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Different studies have established that these fatty acids can help reduce the symptoms of asthma.
In one Japanese study, the researchers compared the efficacies of fish oil (an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids) and olive oil in the long-term treatment of asthma in a group of children. The duration of supplementation was 10 months and at the end, the fish oil group saw greater improvements in asthma symptoms.
Omega-3 fatty acids are especially effective for treating exercise-induced asthma.
Studies show that long-term supplementation can also reduce the risk of asthma and improve lung function. Omega-3 fatty acids work by inhibiting leukotriene synthesis through its blockage of the arachidonic acid inflammatory cascade.
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