As the progression of spring hints at the beginning of summer, many of us find ourselves outside more often.
While almost everyone finds the return of the sunshine a pleasant experience, there are a few not-so-pleasant effects of this time of year. Many individuals feel the effects of exercise-induced asthma as they begin to be more active during the warmer days.
The last thing anyone wants to feel when they’re pushing their body physically is tightness and wheezing in their chest. Unfortunately, that is just what many with exercise-induced asthma experience. Occasional gym-goers, serious athletes and professional competitors alike can be subject to the uncomfortable and performance diminishing symptoms of asthma.
Like so many of today’s common medical issues, conventional treatment for exercise-induced asthma typically involves medications, particularly inhalers. While inhalers can be life-saving, they do not come without risks and side-effects. Additionally, treating asthma directly with medication serves as a short-term solution. Asthma is a symptom of deeper imbalance and dysfunction. Viewing asthma as the main condition misses the opportunity to resolve root causes.
Exercise-induced asthma looks very similar from person to person, but the root causes can vary widely.
Some causes are simple to identify, but others take a bit more digging to uncover. There are several causal “buckets” that asthma can fall into digestive dysfunction, adrenal stress, and inflammation.
Digestive dysfunction is the root cause of many pesky chronic symptoms, and exercise-induced asthma is no exception.
Most Americans produce too little stomach acid to properly digest their food which leads to the double issues of acid reflux and poorly digested food continuing down the digestive tract.
Acid reflux in many individuals is not accompanied by a burning sensation, leading to the moniker “silent reflux.” Also known as laryngopharyngeal reflux, this condition can bathe the throat in gastric contents. The airway is also subject to exposure. A chronic cough and throat-clearing are clues that this condition is present, as are the wheezing and chest tightness linked to asthma.
The other result of low stomach acid is the presence of poorly digested food particles reaching the small intestine. These particles cause irritation along the gut lining and – over time – can open up the tight junctions between the cells lining the gut. Without the protecting of the tightly sealed cellular layer, the bloodstream and lymphatic systems are exposed to the contents of the small intestine. When these uninvited particles circulate, immune responses and systemic inflammation may ensue. That inflammation can manifest in the bronchial tissue.
Both of these issues – while serious if left unchecked – can see great levels of resolution with just a few simple steps. Taking time to eat, avoiding “distracted eating” and chewing thoroughly can make a big difference in digestive efficacy. For many people this will help, but not be quite enough, so adding in hydrochloric acid and/or digestive enzyme supplements may be necessary.
Adrenal Stress is a more complex possible cause of exercise-induced asthma.
Today’s modern lifestyle contributes extensively to adrenal dysfunction. Chronic stress comes in many forms – finances, traffic, work and family balance, environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies and more. For athletes – and endurance athletes in particular – this can take the form of overtraining as well. All of these issues wreak havoc on the HPA-axis, or the functioning of the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
If your exercise-induced asthma is accompanied by sleep problems, unusual joint aches and trouble balancing electrolytes, your adrenal health may be a root cause. Taking time to recover adequately from workouts, beginning a yoga or meditation practice, and reducing or eliminating irritating foods such as caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, and dairy can all be effective tools in regaining good adrenal function.
Inflammation has many causes and sources. Even in the instance of asthma specifically, there can be a very wide range.
Some common sources include food and chemical sensitivities and fatty acid imbalances. Highly suspicious foods – gluten, dairy, grains, soy – should be eliminated from the diet for a time and then reintroduced to test for reactions. Common household chemicals are another potential cause of inflammation, and total elimination is the best remedy. Irritating chemicals may be in home cleaning products or personal care products. Natural versions are widely available as substitutes.
Fatty acid imbalance is one of today’s major health issues. Processed, packaged and fried foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids from soy, corn, canola and other vegetable oils. Not only are these oils plentiful in the standard American diet, but their handling typically leaves them oxidized, damaged, toxic and highly inflammatory. Eliminating these fats and boosting healthy fats in the diet can do wonders for inflammation. Serve cold-pressed oils such as olive and avocado unheated and cook with heartier saturated fats such as coconut or lard. These are more resistant to oxidation and damage. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential addition and can be obtained through fish oil supplements or rotating in sardines as a snack.
The causes of exercise-induced asthma are many, but natural reductions in wheezing, tightness and medication dependence are well worth the effort.
Figuring out what works best for an individual may take some time and tinkering around with different inputs. None of these potential causes exist in isolation, and it may be necessary to remedy more than one to feel improvements in asthma symptoms. On the other side of that coin is the very real – and extremely likely – possibility that ferreting out and correcting the root causes of exercise-induced asthma will produce a myriad of other health benefits, perhaps greater energy levels, clearer thinking, less bloating or clearer skin. Health improvements are all connected.
If you have a history of inhaler use for asthma, it is recommended that you keep your medication handy for emergencies.
This information is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.
Gangemi, S. “Breathe Better: Understanding Exercise-Induced Asthma.” http://sock-doc.com/breathe-better-understanding-exercise-induced-asthma/
Hyman, M. “Breathe Easy – Addressing the Root Causes of Asthma.” http://drhyman.com/blog/2013/09/17/breathe-easy-addressing-root-causes-asthma/
Sara Kennedy is a certified Nutritional Therapy Consultant. She lives fitness, nutrition, and wellness – and wants to help save lives and change the world’s view on health and nutrition. Learn more about Sara and her plans at thriveak.com To reach her, email email@example.com