By Darrel Crain, D.C.
“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth,” according to the Sanskrit proverb.
When it comes to asthma, modern medicine has apparently breathed new life into the old saying, “The cure is worse than the disease.”
Researchers at Cornell and Stanford Universities now tell us that the top-selling asthma medications are responsible for four out of every five deaths from asthma.
“We estimate that approximately 4,000 of the 5,000 asthma deaths that occur in the U.S. each year are caused by these long-acting beta-agonists, and we urge that (they) be taken off the market,” they said.
I don’t know about you, but I find this slightly alarming. It makes me wonder what our fearless defenders at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are going to do to protect us? How is it possible that 80 percent of asthma deaths are actually caused by the drugs already approved by the FDA for treating asthma?
Maybe they should add one of those little black box warnings. “If this drug doesn’t kill you, congratulations! Now you can breathe a little easier!” Or perhaps they should advertise a promotion similar to breakfast cereal, “Be the first to collect all four black box warnings in a single lifetime!”
Asthma is a serious breathing disorder, actually an immune response gone haywire. Tiny irritants such as dust or pollen particles trigger three immune responses to occur all at once: narrowing of the airways, heavy secretion of sticky mucus, and inflammation in the linings of the bronchial tubes. The name asthma appropriately comes from the Ancient Greek for shortness of breath or heavy breathing with the mouth open and panting.
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, asthma now affects one in every eight children. Health authorities are at a loss to explain what is causing this asthma epidemic, said to affect primarily those people living in the industrialized world.
“Despite decades of data, researchers are no closer now to understanding the roots of the asthma epidemic than they were when it first began 20 years ago,” wrote the Public Health Policy Advisory Board in 2002.
Asthma is the top reason children end up in hospital emergency rooms in the U.S. As many as 30 million people have asthma symptoms at one time or another in their lifetimes, yet death from asthma is relatively rare. Is it possible we could lower the number even more if we excluded deaths caused by asthma medication?
I love trying to figure out government logic. Vice-President Dan Quayle was particularly adept at clearing things up for us, “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
Asthma is commonly referred to as a disease, but it is more correctly a “dis-regulation” of normal immune responses. All three elements of the “asthma attack” are standard equipment provided by nature to maintain a healthy immune system.
At times, it is useful and necessary to make the airways smaller, just as it is sometimes a great idea to have massive mucus production and elimination. There are even times when it is necessary to go through a complete inflammatory process just to restore internal order. We call it asthma when all three responses are unleashed at the same time, a senseless overkill effort similar to blasting away at moths in your closet with a 12-gauge shotgun.
“Asthma attacks are increasing even as air pollutants and most other allergens have declined in the U.S. and other developed countries,” noted Ron Bailey in Reason magazine. Asthma sufferers are apparently becoming more highly sensitized, because fewer environmental irritants are said to be triggering ever-greater asthmatic responses. But what is causing the increased sensitivity?
“A growing body of research points toward changes in the immune system forced by exposures in the womb or shortly after birth as the cause of heightened sensitivity to allergens, and thus the cause of asthma’s rise,” according to the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.
My wife Nancy and I found out about sensitization the hard way with our youngest son, Charlie. When he was two, we had to jump in the car late one night and dash for the emergency room. At the hospital they gave us a supply of free sample drugs to tide us over for a few days. “There is no cure for asthma,” we were told. “The only thing you can do is treat the symptoms and try to manage the disease.”
Charlie, now fourteen, never had to use any more asthma drugs, because we found out right away it was cow’s milk that was his sensitizing factor. Complete avoidance of cow’s milk was all it took to “cure” Charlie’s asthma at the time, even though he can now tolerate moderate amounts of milk.
“Experience is the worst teacher; it gives the test before presenting the lesson,” said Vernon Law.
Ironically, children at opposite ends of the socio-economic scale suffer similarly high levels asthma, apparently for different reasons. On the high end of the scale, a child’s environment may be incredibly sterile, so their immune system never gets a chance to flex its muscle by responding to microbes. At the low end of the scale nutrition is terrible, the air quality is poor with high levels of particulates, and these kids are constantly exposed to insect and pesticide residue. The result for both groups of kids is the same, a distorted immune response.
Official guidelines focus on medical treatment and management of asthma, but say little if anything about sensitization and how to avoid it. While the medical solution is to suppress immune responses, a more natural approach seeks to up-regulate the innate control of immune function.
The first step is to find out which foods and other environmental factors may be causing sensitization. Dairy products top the list of foods linked to hypersensitivity. Not surprisingly, the list of items to avoid includes the usual suspects known to interfere with normal healing: sugar, highly refined and processed foods, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives and pesticides, to name a few. It is helpful to upgrade the diet to include foods containing high levels of non-inflammatory nutrients, notably omega-3 fats.
Certain common medical interventions are also reported by researchers to sensitize children, priming them for asthma attacks. Consider cranking these facts into the medical intervention risk/benefit equation for your child.
The use of antibiotics in very young children, particularly during the first year of life, leads to a fourfold increased risk of asthma, according to research by the Wellington Asthma Research Group, as reported in The New Scientist magazine. If the child were given a broad-spectrum antibiotic in early life, he or she would be 8.9 times more likely to suffer from asthma!
Vaccines are also linked to the asthma epidemic. “The odds of having a history of asthma were twice as great among vaccinated subjects than among unvaccinated subjects. The odds of having any allergy-related respiratory symptom in the past 12 months was 63% greater among vaccinated subjects than unvaccinated subjects,” according to the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
“Medicine being a compendium of the successive and contradictory mistakes of medical practitioners, when we summon the wisest of them to our aid, the chances are that we may be relying on a scientific truth the error of which will be recognized in a few years’ time,” wrote French author Marcel Proust.
To the extent that asthma sufferers can learn how to avoid immune suppressive drugs as treatment by eliminating sources of sensitization, we can all breathe a littlw easier for a while. But then again, as John Maynard pointed out, “In the long run, we’re all dead.”
© Darrel Crain, 2006 All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Opinions? Rants? Call Darrel Crain at 619-445-0100
Dr. Darrel Crain
Natural Health Writer
President, CCA San Diego County District
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