So many Americans have asthma. Nearly one in 12 adults and one of every 10 school-age children has the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And incidence is on the rise. Natural therapies can be of tremendous help. Here's what you need to know…

To relieve symptoms of wheezing and gasping for breath, conventional medical doctors prescribe antihistamines, bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroid medications, which are taken short- or long-term. These medications can cause serious side effects, such as digestive upset, increased heart rate, dizziness and tremor. Rather than simply suppressing the symptoms of asthma, the natural remedies I recommend lessen airway inflammation to such an extent that many of my patients are able to reduce or even eliminate their use of traditional asthma medications.

My Natural Anti-Asthma Program

My program can help children and adults. It also can help relieve symptoms in the case of a mild flare-up and may be used in combination with asthma medications. I recommend following this program for one to two months. It's best if you do this while supervised by a holistic doctor, although you also can start this program working with your primary doctor or asthma doctor. After about two months, you can see if you are able to reduce the amount or frequency of your asthma medications. Keep your rescue inhaler on hand just in case you need it.

Asthma-Preventive Lifestyle

When I work with asthma patients, I make sure that they adopt an asthma-preventive lifestyle that includes diet changes and stress management, because diet and stress are two major triggers for asthma. I ask patients to avoid foods that can aggravate asthma symptoms, including artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and, oftentimes, dairy products and foods containing gluten, a group of proteins found in the grains wheat, rye and barley. I also recommend that patients find and practice a stress-reduction method that works for them, such as yoga or biofeedback.

Nutrients For Asthma

I recommend several lung-protective nutritional supplements that reduce inflammation and provide antioxidants because oxidative stress has been shown to play a significant role in airway inflammation. These supplements, wbich have no side effects except as noted, include…

  • Pycnogenol (pine bark extract), which has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect on the respiratory system. In a study by researchers at Loma Linda University in California, children ages six to 18 years old who took Pycnogenol supplements had significantly more improvement in lung function and asthma symptoms and were more likely to be able to reduce or discontinue rescue inhaler use than children in the placebo group.

Dose: Take a supplement equal to about 1 milligram (mg) per pound of body weight daily. Pycnogenol has a blood-thinning effect, so people who take blood-thinning medication should take this supplement only while being supervised by a physician.

  • Fish oil. The anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in fish oil have many health benefits, including curtailing the inflammation that causes asthma symptoms. Research shows that a daily fish oil supplement reduces airway narrowing and coughing and can reduce the need for medication in children with asthma. Adults can get similar benefits.

Dose: Supplements containing 2,000 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily for adults...1,000 mg to 1,500 mg for children. Fish oil has a blood-thinning effect, so if you take blood-thinning medication, speak to your doctor about taking fish oil.

For a more aggressive approach, add…

  • Choline. A nutrient in the B-vitamin family, choline has been found to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma flare-ups and the need for bronchodilators. A study in Immunobiology found that choline reduced inflammation and oxidative stress in patients with asthma.

Dose: 1.5 grams (g) to 3 g daily, Start with the smallest dose, and increase to 3 g if symptoms don't improve in one month.

  • Glutathione. This very potent antioxidant also revitalizes other antioxidants, boosts the immune system and breaks down environmental toxins in the body. Follow instructions on the label for dosages for adults and children.

Or take either one of the following supplements that boosts the body's glutathione levels…

  • N-acetylcysteine (NAC).

Dose: 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg daily for adults.. 500 mg to 1,000 mg for children.

  • Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA).

Dose: 100 mg to 300 mg daily for adults. It has not been studied in children. ALA can reduce glucose levels, so you should be monitored while taking this supplement if you have diabetes.

If you have exercise-induced asthma, add...

  • Lycopene. This antioxidant, which is a powerful carotenoid, is known to improve lung function. A study published in Allergy found that more than half of people with exercise-induced asthma had significantly fewer symptoms after taking lycopene for one week, compared with those taking a placebo.

Dose: 30 mg daily for adults...15 mg for children

If you get frequent respiratory infections that trigger asthma, add...

  • Astragalus. This herb, which often is used in traditional Chinese medicine, helps to enhance the immune system's protective effects. Studies have shown that people with impaired immunity have fewer colds when they take astragalus, compared with people with impaired immunity who don't take the herb.

Dose: 500 mg to 1,000 mg twice daily for adults...250 mg to 500 mg twice daily for children.

My asthma patients are now breathing easier because of these supplements—and you will be, too.

Asthma Pills Versus Inhalers

Investigators followed 650 chronic asthma patients (ages 12 to 80) for two years to compare oral medications, such as montelukast (Singulair) and zafirlukast (Accolate), with steroid inhalers.

Result: Asthma symptoms improved just as well for patients taking daily pills as for those who used steroid inhalers.

Reason: Taking pills was easier for about 60% of patients, since it meant not having to worry about proper inhaler technique.

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