Beating Asthma
by Jonathan Berkowitz, M.D.

To beat asthma, you need to change how you live. Healthy living requires a commitment that's difficult in a world filled with unhealthy temptations. The first step is consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and is also low in meat and animal fat. A 1999 study published in the European Respiratory Journal examining over 10,000 men and women found an association "between infrequent fresh fruit consumption and the prevalence of frequent or severe asthma symptoms in adults."

If you go from T-bones to celery sticks overnight, it will feel as if you've been sentenced to culinary purgatory. Start incorporating more fresh fruits and vegetables into your diet slowly, over time. The next step to beating asthma is exercise. Just in case you thought asthma and exercise don't mix, 4% to 15% of Summer Olympic athletes have asthma. According to one study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, "there's substantial evidence that exercise training increases exercise performance and fitness in asthmatics." Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, strengthens your heart and lungs adding healthy active years to your life. Even more important, exercise will make you feel good about yourself. As soon as you start to exercise, as soon as you start to eat right, as soon as you make a commitment to healthy living, something magical happens: you take control of your life. By living healthy, you say to the world "I am the master of my fate. I have control; asthma is my responsibility."

Next, take a look at your home. Home may not be that sweet if you have asthma. Topping the offending factors list is cat, dog and dustmite dander, cockroach droppings, synthetic chemicals and tobacco smoke. Perhaps the worst room in the house for the asthmatic is the bedroom. While you spend about one-third of your life sleeping, you are shedding skin. Shed skin makes up much of what we call dust; it's the perfect dust mite food and many asthmatics are allergic to dust mites. To reduce the dust mite load in your home, cover your pillows, mattress, comforters and box spring in special fabrics called "encasements" that are designed to minimize the amount of dust mite allergen released into the air. To make the life of a dust mite especially miserable, wash your sheets, blankets, pillow covers, comforters and mattress pads every ten to fourteen days in 130 F water.

There are also supplements that can help alleviate asthmatic problems. Vitamin C (500 to 2,000 mg daily) is the lung's leading antioxidant warrior. Multiple studies have documented that reduced dietary vitamin C is associated with lung disease and large population studies have found that the less Vitamin C rich fruits are consumed, the higher the incidence of asthma. Perhaps the most important study came from the Department of Environmental Protection called NHANES I. This study examined the effect of vitamin C on FEV1, an important indicator of lung function and health. After examining the data the authors concluded that "vitamin C intake has a protective effect on pulmonary function" and that low vitamin C intake was "directly related to lower values of FEV1." Another antioxidant superstar is selenium (200 micrograms daily). Selenium works with vitamin E to protect the heart and lungs from disease while a selenium deficiency has been linked to asthma. A study from the King's College in London involving 9,709 individuals found that high dietary or supplemental selenium intake reduced asthma risk by up to 25%.

In the way of herbal remedies, check out boswellia serrata which contains resins composed of boswellic acids that limit leukotriene synthesis. Leukotrienes are potent mediators of the asthmatic inflammatory cascade. A 1998 German double-blind placebo controlled study showed that after six weeks, 70% in the Boswellia group reported reduced or absence of wheezing and shortness of breath. Only 27% of the placebo group reported improved asthma symptoms. Boswellia is usually given in dosages of 150 to 400 mgs of standardized extract three times a day for six to twelve weeks.

For some asthmatics, the key to a better life rests with learning how to breathe. Bad breathing can dramatically impact asthma severity. Perhaps the most effective breathing therapy is the Buteyko Breathing Technique (BBT). One prospective randomized Australian trial examined Buteyko breathing in thirty-nine asthmatics. According to the authors, daily steroid use fell 49% in the Buteyko group compared to 0% in the control group. Through diet, exercise and the intelligent use of supplements and other therapies, asthma can be beat, allowing you to live the life you deserve and making asthma nothing more than an occasional nuisance.

Jonathan M. Berkowitz, M.D. is author of the new book "Asthma: Relax! You're Not Going to Die." He is a prolific author and has made multiple TV and radio appearances. For more info, visit You may also contact Dr. Berkowitz at