My 12-year-old grandson suffers from exercise-induced asthma, but is otherwise healthy. Can you suggest any natural remedies that might be able to help?
Exercise-induced asthma (EIA), sometimes referred to as 'exercise-induced bronchospasm/constriction' (EIB), is the medical name for the wheezing and extreme shortness of breath that occurs after physical activity. It's thought to affect up to 90 per cent of people with chronic asthma and roughly 10 per cent of the general population without asthma.1
Treatment of EIA is almost exclusively with bronchodilator drugs like beta-2 agonists, but patients can eventually fail to respond to them, or experience unpleasant side-effects like upset stomach, dry throat, trouble sleeping and even palpitations.2
The good news is there's increasing evidence that a nutritional approach may be an effective way to control EIA, and certain supplements and lifestyle changes are showing great promise. But if your grandson is currently taking drugs to manage his EIA, he should see a qualified practitioner before trying a complementary or alternative treatment. An experienced naturopath can recommend appropriate dosages for supplements and monitor your grandson's progress.
Here are some natural supplements and lifestyle changes worth trying.
Several studies suggest that these anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found naturally in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are beneficial for people suffering from EIA.
In one three-week placebo-controlled study of chronic asthmatics with EIA, taking fish-oil capsules containing 3.2 g of EPA and 2.0 g of DHA significantly improved lung function and completely eliminated EIA symptoms.3
As the dosages used in this study were rather high, your grandson could start off with a lower dose to see if it has a beneficial effect.
In another study, a unique omega-3 supplement derived from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Lyprinol, widely available online) also had impressive results, reducing airway inflammation, and improving lung function and asthma symptoms.4
Suggested daily dosage: 1-1.2 g EPA and DHA, or 3 capsules
Some researchers reckon that EIA might be the result of an increased production of free radicals in the body, so free-radical-fighting antioxidants like vitamin C might be beneficial for your grandson (and other sufferers).
In fact, a recent meta-analysis (pooled analysis of several studies) published in the British Medical Journal reported that vitamin C substantially reduced EIA symptoms when taken before exercise.5
Suggested daily dosage: 1-2 g, an hour before exercise
The antioxidant carotenoids beta-carotene (found in dark-green vegetables like spinach and broccoli as well as in orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes) and lycopene (found in red/pink fruit like tomatoes, watermelon and grapefruit) are also promising for EIA.
Israeli scientists found that a daily dose of 64 mg of beta-carotene-in this case, derived from Dunaliella algae-for one week prevented EIA in over half the 38 patients studied. The same team also found that taking lycopene daily (30 mg) improved symptoms in 55 per cent of EIA patients.6
Suggested daily dosage: 5,000 IU mixed carotenoids
A low-salt diet
Is your grandson eating too much salt? There's evidence that a high-salt diet could be contributing to EIA, so restricting salt intake may well improve symptoms.7
One study examined the effects of high-salt and low-salt diets on lung function and exercise in EIA sufferers and healthy controls. Neither diet had any effect on lung function in the control group, but low salt intakes improved lung function after exercise in those with EIA. High salt intakes, on the other hand, worsened lung function.8
The same researchers also found that a restricted salt diet can improve lung function in EIA sufferers during exercise too.9
If you can get your grandson to take up yoga, it may help with his EIA. A recent study of asthmatic children found that all those diagnosed with EIA no longer had such symptoms after three months of twice-weekly yoga sessions.10
Tips for EIA sufferers
o Choose a sport less likely to trigger asthma symptoms, such as football, tennis, golf or swimming. In general, activities that have intermittent rest periods are a good choice as they give you time to regain control of your breathing.
o Warm up slowly. When you start to feel tightness in your chest, slow down or stop and stretch. Gradually build up to your normal pace.
o Try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth while exercising-and in general too-as evidence suggests mouth-breathing may be a trigger of EIA.1
Sports Med, 2003; 33: 671-81
Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2013; 10: CD003564; NHS choices, online at www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bronchodilator-drugs/Pages/Side-effects.aspx
Chest, 2006; 129: 39-49
Respir Med, 2013; 107: 1152-63
BMJ Open, 2013; 3. pii: e002416
Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 1999; 82: 549-53; Allergy, 2000; 55: 1184-9
Phys Sportsmed, 2010; 38: 118-31
Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2000; 32: 1815-9
J Sports Sci, 2001; 19: 865-73
Altern Ther Health Med, 2014; 20: 18-23
tips for eia references
Clin Allergy, 1981; 11: 433-9