Once again, asthma is on the rise. This serious breathing problem already afflicts millions of people around the world and is expected to hinder the lung function of millions more in the next 20 Years (Annual world asthma 2/17/04).
In the US, asthma continues to strike our kids. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the rate at which kids developed asthma doubled between 1980 and 1995. By 2001, 6.3 million kids had asthma.
Few researchers are prepared to state definitively why asthma rates have continued to climb during the past two decades. However, many researchers and investigators point to several factors that seem inextricably linked to this disorder, which is marked by wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing spells.
A report from the American Public Health Association and researchers at Harvard puts a lot of the blame for the high rate of asthma on global warming, smog and the atmosphere’s growing burden of carbon dioxide.
In this increasing burden of toxins released into the atmosphere, the rate of asthma among toddlers has grown to be particularly worrisome. Their rate of asthma has climbed more than twice the national average: by 160% between 1980 and 1994.
According to these researchers (Inside the Greenhouse: The Impacts of CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) and Climate Change on Public Health in the Inner City), global warming — which involves large increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide released by internal combustion engines and industrial processes — has fomented the asthma epidemic in several ways:
- Extra heat in the atmosphere has stimulated rapid plant growth that results in more fungus, pollen and spores; this causes allergies that often lead to asthma. Weeds like ragweed, which release allergenic particles, have greatly increased during the past few years.
- Extreme weather has caused more floods and damp houses, leading to more indoor air pollution from molds.
- Diesel pollutants are now combining with pollen and mold to irritate lungs, causing troublesome allergic reactions.
Bus Fume Hazards
The report notes that in neighborhoods like Harlem, in New York City, 25% of all children suffer asthma. Rates are particularly high in children who live in apartments that are located along bus routes.
A finding that surprised the scientists is the fact that carbon dioxide released by city traffic in the burning of coal and natural gas persists over urban areas, causing a dome of CO2 pollution.
Research on air quality in New York City, Phoenix and Baltimore shows that these lingering CO2 domes contain from 400 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide to 600 ppm. Those levels are significantly above the global average of 379 ppm. Over the course of the Earth’s history, going back more than 400,000 years before the Industrial age, research shows the atmosphere has averaged only 180 to 280 ppm.
According to Robert Fink, MD: “Asthma can be a nocturnal disease, at its worst between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., when cortisol [a hormone that regulates many bodily functions] levels are lowest” (Pediatric Asthma: Diagnosis and Treatment Goals, Medscape).
Dr. Fink says that if problems with breathing are bad enough to interfere with sleep, a health practitioner should be consulted to analyze the difficulty.
Catch Your Breath with Herbal Relief
Since asthma is linked to allergies, herbs that help to quell respiratory allergies can possibly lower your risk of asthma.
A blend of standardized herbal extracts that contains phyllanthus emblica (Indian gooseberry or amla), terminalia chebula (harda or haritaki), terminalia bellerica (bedda nut tree), albizia lebbeck (Indian walnut), zingiber officinale (ginger root), piper longum (Indian long pepper), and piper nigrum (black pepper) has been found to improve breathing and reduce the effect of allergies (FASEBJ 2004; VOL. II:A912, Abs. 600.8). Other studies have shown that these herbs can relieve nasal congestion, ease sneezing and clear bothersome mucus (J AM Coll Nutr 22(5): Abs 46, 2003).
Avoiding antibiotics may also lower the risk of asthma. “Over the past four decades there has been an explosive increase in allergy and asthma in westernized countries, says Mairi Noverr, Ph.D., a researcher who has looked at the line between antibiotic use with asthma and allergies.
“We propose that the link between antibiotic use and dysregulated pulmonary immunity is through antibiotic-induced long-term alterations in the bacterial and fungal GI microflora.”
In other words, Dr. Noverr’s, Ph.D. research shows that beneficial bacteria in people’s intestines which take part in strengthening immunity and regulating the immune response to pollen, may have been harmed by the over prescription of antibiotics by physicians.
Dr. Noverr, Ph.D. and her fellow researchers gave lab animals antibiotics before exposing them to Candida albicans (a yeast infection).
They then exposed the animals to mold spores. The result: a greater sensitivity to inhaling the spores and breathing problems similar to what people experience during hayfever season (104th General Meeting American Society of Microbiology).
“The studies presented here are the first direct demonstration that antibiotic therapy can promote the development of an allergic airway response,” says Dr. Noverr.
On a global scale, the outlook for asthma is worrisome. As other countries continue their industrial growth, the burden on the Earth’s atmosphere will grow. Meanwhile, few serious measures are being taken to reduce global warming, and the U.S. national diet frequently neglects lung-friendly vegetables and fruits.
Within that uncertain scenario, you can still boost your chances of healthy lungs: Eat more fruits and vegetables. Stay away from smoky buses. Hope for clear skies.