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What is asthma?

Current medical opinion is that around 80% of asthma is caused by common allergens, such as house dust mites, animal fibre, dust and moulds and that cigarette smoke increases the risk. Although all these factors are involved, it is my opinion that these things are but triggers and are not the actual causes of asthma.

Asthma is a condition marked by recurrent attacks of wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, associated with a narrowing of the bronchial airways. These symptoms are typically interspersed with symptom free intervals. The affected person's bronchial tubes constrict excessively, often in response to various external stimuli and become inflamed, along with the tissues surrounding them.

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There are 3 main types of asthma which can commonly be grouped as:

1. Nervous or stress-induced asthma
2. Inflammatory asthma and
3. Catarrhal asthma

Nervous asthma

This is bought about by psychological stress and is characterised by dry coughing and wheezing. Additional symptoms are thirst, dry mouth, dry skin, constipation, anxiety and a craving for warm drinks. Attacks are predominantly at the beginning or end of the day.

Inflammatory asthma

This is characterised by coughing and wheezing with yellow mucous. There is often pain in the chest and other symptoms can be fever, sweating, irritability and the need for cool air. Attacks are often at noon and midnight.

Catarrhal asthma

This is characterised by coughing and wheezing with abundant clear or white mucous or phlegm. The lungs may have a rattling sound and attacks are often in the morning and the evening.
Each of these types can overlap and have different levels of severity. The natural approach to asthma control treats each of these types differently and it is important to recognise which category you fall under.

Asthmatic symptoms occur when the body attempts to correct a build up of bodily acid mucous. We make this worse when we feed the body mucous forming foods, which results in the body being unable to cope with the overload. This waste is food for bacteria and another source of irritation to the mucous membranes of the bronchial tubes. The acids generated cause reflex spasms of the bronchial airways. However, the original source is almost always in the intestines.

What are the triggers of asthma?

Almost all asthma can be aggravated by certain foods and irritants and each type of asthma can respond more or less to particular triggers.

Nervous asthma is aggravated by chemicals such as food colourings, preservatives and refined sugars, which are hidden in many foods.

Inflammatory asthma is aggravated by household chemicals and the sufferer is prone to many allergies such as house dust mites, pollens, moulds, fungal spores, animals and the salicylates found in several foods.

Catarrhal asthma is aggravated by heavy textured foods and especially by dairy products and the gluten in wheat.

Mucous forming foods will aggravate asthma...

These are:

  • Refined white flour foods, including breads, crackers, biscuits, pastries, crackers, white pasta, etc.
  • Dairy products including milk, cheese and ice cream.
  • Hot chocolate or cocoa prepared with milk and condensed milk is particularly mucous forming.
  • Sub-tropical fruits such as bananas, dates and other starchy-sweet foods.
  • Red peppers and other salicylate containing foods, such as dried sultanas, prunes, raisins and currants.
  • Tomato products.
  • Tea and alcohol, such as liqueur, port, wine and rum.

These foods do not have to be eliminated completely, however, we do tend to overindulge, particularly in white flour and dairy. Aim to keep these to a minimum as part of a well balanced whole food diet. 

Asthma can be improved with diet...

On the whole, asthma is improved when the diet contains plenty of fresh vegetables, especially sulphur containing vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions and garlic and some fresh fruits. Getting "back to basics" and cooking foods from scratch and as "grandmother" would have is the best. If you can buy organic and spray free foods, this would be even better.

Many common additives are toxic to asthmatics, especially...

  • Metabisulphite found in soft drinks, fruit juices, wine, some dried fruits and fruit bars, pickles, pickled onions, potato chips, sausages and sausage meat.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG) found in Chinese, Japanese and Asian foods. This is also added to a lot of pre-prepared foods and labelled "flavour enhancer", soy sauce, commercially prepared savoury foods, packaged soups, seasonings and sauces etc.
  • Tartrazine This is the yellow and orange food colouring found in many fruit juices, cordials, sweet desserts, toppings, sauces and pickles.

Diet is seldom the single cause of asthma...

We should not however be fooled into thinking that these dietary factors are the cause of asthma. It is rarely caused by just one thing and many factors are triggers to an asthmatic condition. It is generally the combined effects of several factors building up to such a degree that eventually overload is experienced by the body and the triggering mechanism is the final straw.

Other factors involved with asthma...


Asthma, especially the nervous type, is particularly affected by dehydration because the lungs are the major source of water loss and they need constant replenishing. Water is a natural antihistamine. Asthmatics should drink plenty of water, at least 2 litres a day. Sometimes an asthmatic attack can be averted by sitting down and drinking 2 large glasses of water.


A universal phenomena amongst asthmatics is incorrect breathing. Most asthmatics are shallow breathers, who breath from the intercostal muscles of the ribs rather than from the diaphragm, as is the proper way to breathe. Breathing techniques are useful as both a preventative method and as a way of helping during an acute attack.


Other factors in dealing with asthma involve the spine. Spinal nerves radiate out from the spine and animate and support organ function, much like an electrical switchboard. When certain spinal nerves become irritated by incorrect articulation from injuries, genetic tendencies, posture habits and misuse, they affect the optimum function of organs, glands and tissues, including the lungs and bronchi. Massage and osteopathic adjustments around the neck and upper dorsal areas of the spine go a long way to relieve and correct the discomfort of asthma.


Another surprising finding has been the discovery by natural health practitioners that in some cases, intestinal parasites can cause asthma. Over 75% of our population has worms and in many cases of asthma, the symptoms can be due to parasites. A variety of roundworm spends part of its life cycle in the lung. Considering that an adult female roundworm may release up to 200,000 eggs per day, it is not surprising how common these infections are.
Infection begins with the ingestion of eggs in contaminated soil or unwashed fruit and vegetables. I personally have found lab testing to be notoriously unreliable in detecting worms, even when they have been found in faeces.


Many clinical trials have demonstrated a relationship between hiatus hernia, low stomach hydrochloric acid and asthma. Hydrochloric acid is necessary in the stomach to create an acid medium in which the protein digesting enzyme pepsin can function. When there is insufficient hydrochloric acid in the stomach in the presence of protein, the proteins do not get broken down to finer particles of amino acids.

Often the protein stays in the stomach too long, due to this hydrochloric acid deficiency and due to eating carbohydrates along with proteins. The result is fermentation and another type of acid is produced, called food acid, which is irritating to the oesophagus and can trigger symptoms of hiatus hernia or asthma.

Clinical studies have shown that treatment of both stomach food acidity and hiatus hernia results in a decrease of asthmatic symptoms.

Breathing Techniques to assist asthma...

We recommend Buteyko, a breathing technique that can help greatly with asthma. Buteyko is promoted as the answer for drug free asthma control. Buteyko tutors will not tell you to throw away your asthma medication. Classes are held all around New Zealand. During these, they will help you with your breathing problems and reduce your use of drugs in three ways:

(1) Teach you to monitor your condition accurately ie. whether to increase your medication, call an ambulance or simply do some breathing exercises.
(2) Provide you with a natural and effective method of overcoming attacks.
(3) Teach you special exercises, which will reduce the frequency of attacks.

During a Buteyko course, 7 one-hour sessions, you will be taught:

(1) To develop and practice the Buteyko breathing exercises.
(2) Sound understanding about the mechanics of asthma.
(3) How your medication really works.
(4) To adapt the various techniques in order to enhance daily activities and/or sporting performance.
(5) To master effective allergy testing.
(6) How stressors, such as environment, allergies and triggers cause or aggravate asthma and what you can do about them.

The contact phone number for Buteyko is 0800 427 8462, or Hastings (06) 878 0101, P O Box 1458 Hastings.

At Ideal Health we stock a number of natural products that can help greatly with asthma. Our favourites are:
Herbal Chest Ease
Breathe Clear
Lung Elixir

Other products that are well worth considering are:
HistaEze (Quercetin with Bromelain)
Allergy Check
Carotenoid Complex
Inner Health Plus
Hi-Strength Liquid Fish Oil

Come in and talk to one of our team about your health concerns. We would be happy to advise you on the best product for your specific health needs.

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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

If you need help or advice, please email our naturopathic team with your health question.  Please allow 48 hours for a response.

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