Monday, October 7, 2013

Controlling Asthma Naturally Update - What Works for Me

When we moved from Oregon to Colorado 2 years ago, one of the first things I noticed was that my asthma started acting up.  Switching to Real Food years ago had gotten it under control for about 3 years without prescription meds, but when we got here, the humidity, pollen, whatever, made it really flare up again.

Especially during the spring and fall, even if I didn't have "classic" allergy symptoms like runny nose or itchy eyes, I would have shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and all the old asthma symptoms returned with a vengeance!

So, as I shared 2 years ago, I've been exploring different natural options to control my asthma without prescription medications.  

Here is what works for me:

  1. A foundation of healthy fats. 

    They keep me full and drastically reduce blood-sugar swings.  By healthy, I mean fats from real foods, like butter, coconut oil, lard, olive oil, fatty fish.  I absolutely avoid ALL cheap, processed oils like canola, soy, vegetable, sunflower, etc.  These oils come from factories, not food!

  2. Plenty of (safe) starches and carbs. 

    For me, this means potatoes, white rice, sweet potatoes, starchy/carby vegetables, and occasional non-gluten grains.  If I don't eat them, I don't feel full, and I have low energy.  But I make sure I eat them with plenty of fat, or else they do spike my blood sugar.
  3. Avoiding (most) gluten.

    Some people do fine with a little wheat.  I generally don't, and many other asthmatics are in the same boat.  If I eat it, I have asthma symptoms, period.  I still occasionally do, like in social settings where it would be rude or awkward to refuse (after all, it doesn't make me hurt...just wheeze), or on a special occasion, like my kid's birthday cake (give me a break, those bean cakes on Pinterest are NOT good enough to give to guests).  I have noticed that good sourdough white bread bothers me the least of all wheat products, so if we do have wheat, we try to have it in that form.
  4. Avoiding pasteurized dairy.  

    We still drink raw milk and eat yogurt, cheese, kefir, and sour cream with no problems.  Also, I have no trouble at all with pasteurized heavy whipping cream - I drink it in my tea every morning.  But milk from the store is out, as are ice cream, hot cocoa mixes, etc.  If I do have to eat these things, or just really, really need a little scoop of ice cream to make me feel human, I try to eat it with some raw milk or fermented dairy to help it digest more easily.  For me, this is almost as big a trigger as gluten.
  5. Plenty of Fat Soluble Vitamins. 

    We take Cod Liver Oil somewhat regularly (a molecularly distilled type with synthetic Vitamins A and D added), eat high-vitamin foods like egg yolks, liver and oily fish, and I've started taking a D3 supplement.  I know some experts are against supplementing, but, honestly, I just can't feed my kids sardines at every meal when we go to a play date and they are offered PB&J's.  We already eat weird food, I don't want them to have complexes.  So we supplement a little bit to help cover those dietary gaps that come from being socially graceful.  For me, I've noticed a pretty big improvement in my asthma since adding in the Vitamin D supplement.
  6. Good Bacteria.  

    I try pretty hard to eat something fermented every day, whether that is yogurt or kombucha or homemade fermented veggies or Bubbie's pickles, or whatever.  Also, we spend a TON of time outside playing in the dirt, working in the garden, petting the filthy dog even after he swims in the muddy pond, mucking the chicken coop, and we are NOT fastidious about washing our hands.  My 1-year-old has eaten more dirt than I thought possible this summer.  Permaculture has reminded me (sorry, I had to throw in at least one reference to it), that the microbial health of the soil is what supports the health of plants, and in turn, of bugs and larger animals that eat those plants.  The closer we are to our healthy soil, eating produce from it and exposing ourselves directly to it, I think the healthier we will be.
  7. Careful Exercise.

    When I was younger and had time to jog, I noticed that regular running helped my asthma stay under control.  Basically, if my cardiovascular health was good, then "normal" life exercise didn't make me breath hard, so didn't bother me.  However, going for an hour run everyday made me tired and really made one of my hips hurt.  So my exercise now consists of working hard around the yard, doing jobs around the house, hefting kids/feed bags/tools around, and doing body-weight exercise like squats, push-ups, core, and yoga poses.  And if I feel like sprinting after my kids, dashing up to the garage to grab a shovel, or flying down a particularly tempting hill, I go for it.  When I listen to my body and run when it feels like running, I get some great sprints in, I have no trouble with my asthma, plus I enjoy every minute!  I feel invigorated and think, "I love sprinting places!" instead of feeling like a dead dog and thinking "Jogging is necessary torture."  Mark Sisson's 5 Essential Movements and Primal Blueprint Fitness E-book gave me a good start, although I take it more easy than he suggests, since I'm still nursing and notice a milk shortage when I overdo it.
  8. Natural Remedies.

    I will preface this by saying, I still use my albuterol (rescue inhaler) occasionally, sometimes in the thick of allergy season when working in the garden or if I have a bad cold.  Also, if I have eaten dairy or wheat, I tend to be wheezy by evening.  Breathing is important, not something to mess around with, and you don't want to end up in the emergency room or morgue, so don't hesitate to take action if you (or your kid!) are about to asphyxiate!  However, when I'm just feeling a little wheezy or tight in my lungs, I often try some natural remedies instead of reaching for the inhaler.  A hot shower with plenty of steam helps relax my lungs.  Also, if I have annoying wheezing and can't sleep, but it's not bad enough to really cause distress, often a cup of hot tea helps ease the wheezing enough for me to drift off.  Along with that, eating cold foods sometimes makes wheezing worse, so I try to avoid that if I'm having a rough time of it.  I have heard everything from garlic to ginger to turmeric to lemon juice can help ease symptoms, but if you are eating tons of trigger foods and filling your body with inflammation-causing crud, a spoonful of turmeric is not an adequate long-term solution!  These remedies work best if you are already doing the hard work of changing your diet and improving your health.

    A Little More Background About How I Got Here:

I considered putting myself on the GAPS diet, which is a gut-healing regimen that basically (as I understand it) tries to repair micro-holes in the large intestine by only allowing foods which digest in the small intestine.  This means most starchy foods are eliminated, like grains, uncultured/pasteurized dairy, most beans, all refined sugar.  And probiotics are gradually introduced, so that good bacteria can replace bad bacteria in the gut, further healing any damage.

There are many things I love about the idea of the GAPS diet:

  • It is all real food.  Made in your own kitchen.  
  • It emphasizes healthy fats (saturated from pastured animals).
  • It uses traditional cooking methods, like long simmering of bones to make nutrient-rich broth.
  • It eliminates many of the "problem foods" that I had noticed were aggravating to my asthma, like pasteurized milk and wheat.
However, since the GAPS diet has been so widely used in the past few years, I started finding many testimonials from people who had tried it and had issues with it.  According to these people, it really is amazing at doing what it claims - improving those "Leak Gut Syndrome" symptoms.  But it can also lead to fatigue, thyroid issues, and low body temperatures for some people.  In particular, one of my favorite bloggers, Sarah at Nourished and Nurtured, recorded her family's GAPS journey in detail.  She eventually decided that if she could do it over again, she would not have started the GAPS diet with her family, partly because of the problems it caused, and partly because it is just so much work for what it accomplishes.  

So, my next question was, "If not GAPS, then what?"  I gradually stumbled across Matt Stone and Chris Kresser and their "revolutionary" advice to listen to your body, experiment, and see what works for you and what your body is really craving (from more carbs to more sleep to less exercise!).  I also have really enjoyed the Perfect Health Diet, which is kind of a Paleo spin-off (like Chris Kresser) that encourages eating plenty of "safe starches."

So, that's the run-down of what has helped me, every day, to control my asthma naturally, without prescription medicine.  I still keep a rescue inhaler handy, but I have been able to avoid using preventative prescription medicines for 5 years now and counting!

Note: I'm not a doctor or nutritionist or anything licensed.  Please don't interpret my personal experiences to be medical advice, and check with your doctor before discontinuing any medicine, blah blah blah legal jargon.

Do you know anyone who suffers from asthma?  Have they had any luck trying to control it with natural methods?  What has been helpful for them?  Leave a comment and share your experiences and thoughts!

Posted at Small Footprint Friday and Fat Tuesday

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