Friday 16 December 2011

Natural cures for Asthma?

About two years ago, I was diagnosed with asthma. After some changes to my lifestyle, the last whole body plethysmography measurement showed that my lungs are fine again although I do not use any medication anymore. The asthma is gone!

I would like to share these changes with you, hoping they may also benefit you and also to hear back what benefited others and what not. My personal experiment is a little small (n=1), thus it may well be that some improvement were just by accident and not because of lifestyle change. I have to say that I only had very light asthma. I never had an asthmatic attack, but regularly did wheeze lightly when exhaling at night, my voice was not so strong anymore and my lungs produced too much mucus (leading to some coughing and a coated tongue). Another sign was that the reliever medication (Bronchodilators) made jogging a lot easier.

Asthma is on the rise the last 50 years in the West. Already this points to lifestyle factors being important. Not much seems to be known about which factors these are. It has been noted that children growing up at farms as less affected by asthma as urban children. Based on this, it has been theorized that childhood contact with microbes is beneficial, but I guess there are quite a few other differences between the life on the country side and in cities.

The main changes I made are that I started with intermittent fasting, and nowadays sleep on a firm surface, and do much more walking/hiking. Also important may have been that I do not any grains any more, do less jogging and more sprinting and that I regularly tanning for more vitamin D.

Intermittent fasting

Looking for ways to cure my asthma and not having to use Glucocorticoids for the rest of my life, I found a scientific article by Johnson et al., (2007) on intermittent fasting and asthma. Intermittent fasting means not eating for short durations, this can be skipping breakfast once in a while, skipping breakfast and lunch, or not eating for one day. One can do this every other day, or once a week or month. For more information see, the blog of Mark Sisson or Brad Pilon; a related idea is the warrior diet.

Obesity is a risk factor for asthma, thus reducing weight may reduce the symptoms. Because diets do not work that well (many people are not able to keep following them), the above mentioned researchers wanted to try intermittent fasting as an easier way to reduce weight. To their surprise they found that the asthma symptoms reduced rapidly in the beginning before much weight loss was achieved. Thus they suggested that intermittent fasting may be helpful by itself.

It may well be related to metabolic effects of intermittent fasting. People doing weight training sometimes like to do their training in a fasted state, claiming that it improves the results, either because they have more power or because it leads to higher testosterone levels.

Although intermittent fasting is the only method I list for which there is thus some reasonable scientific evidence, I must admit that I did not notice much change myself. I did stay with fasting one day once in a while (currently about once every month) and skipping meals occasionally for the other health and training benefits.

Sleeping on a firm surface

Via the article on intermittent fasting by Mark Sisson, I came into contact with the paleo (or primal) community. These people look for inspiration in the lifestyle of people in the stone age to guess what we do wrong nowadays to cause all those chronic Western deceases. In those days, it happened more often that one would have to go without (much) food for a day, leading to the hypothesis that intermittent fasting may be good for you.

One paleo homepage stated that in those days we also did not sleep on a foam mattress, but rather on a firm surface. It promised a better posture, easier breathing and waking up easy and refreshed. This claim was easy and free to test, I just removed my mattress and slept on the board underneath. Well okay, on the board plus a gymnastic mat and a comforter. It was definitely not comfortable, but I slept well and all promises were fulfilled. Plus during the first week I noticed that my asthma became a lot better.

The reduction in asthma may be indirectly caused by the improvement in posture. Sleeping so well that I even needed less sleep probably also did not hurt.

Walking, hiking

The final blow for my asthma was walking more often, a combination of low level aerobic work and the enjoyment of nature. I currently work part time and take one week of every month. The first week I went walking three times. At the end of the week my asthma was almost gone; after some more weeks gradually it was completely gone. As is now confirmed by my latest lung check.

No grains

What may have helped is that I eat a more stone age diet, which mainly means avoiding grains and reducing the amount of carbohydrate-rich foods, while eating more offal (mainly liver, bones and marrow, because that is all I can get). This has helped me with many small health problems, which I was thinking were from getting old, but with regard to asthma I did not notice any direct effects.

Less jogging, more sprinting

Around the time my asthma got better, I also stopped jogging very often, which may been adding to a chronic stress load. Instead I now prefer to walk a lot (see above) and sprint once a week, which has improved my running style and helps build up muscle.

Vitamin D

I also started to tan regularly, which not only prevents against getting a sun burn in summer, but also improves vitamin D levels. The main source of vitamin D is the sun. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to asthma, see e.g. this review by Litonjua and Weiss (2007).

If any of these ideas were helpful for you, I would appreciate it if you could comment. Also in case something did not work, a comment is much appreciated; we also have to weed out the bad hypothesis. Thank you in advance.

Related reading

High-fibre diet may protect against allergic asthma

More paleo posts

Paleo and fruitarian lifestyles have a lot in common
A comparison of the main ideas and recommendations of these two lifestyles.
Sleep and diversity
Differences in sleeping times, from early bird to night owls, may provide security advantages.
Is obesity bias evolutionary?
A critical comment on an article, which states that humans have an intrinsic propensity to eat too much.
Freedom to learn
Forcing children to learn stifles their innate motivation to teach themselves and may thus be counter productive.
The paleo culture
After the Ancestral Health Symposium 2012, as discussion started about the sometimes self-centred culture of the paleo community


Carney, D.R., A.J.C. Cuddy, A.J. Yap. Power posing: brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, doi: 10.1177/0956797610383437, 2010.

James B. Johnson, Warren Summer, Roy G. Cutler, Bronwen Martin, Dong-Hoon Hyun, Vishwa D. Dixit, Michelle Pearson, Matthew Nassar, Richard Tellejohan, Stuart Maudsley, Olga Carlson, Sujit John, Donald R. Laub, Mark P. Mattson. Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. Free Radical Biology & Medicine, 42, doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2006.12.005, pp. 665–674, 2007.

Litonjua AA, Weiss ST. Is vitamin D deficiency to blame for the asthma epidemic? J Allergy Clin Immunol. 120(5): pp. 1031-5, 2007.

1 comment:

  1. Asthma treatment in the US is a medical disgrace. See Mother Jones. “The Asthma trap.”December 2004 study by a coalition of health groups showed that nearly a quarter of children with asthma made at least one trip to the emergency room in the past year, and just over half had missed some amount of school or daycare.”
    I got asthma by mouth breathing as an infant and got rid of it by doing mindful loud sniffs 2 years ago. This presses the lips together and by a reflex arc relieves the bronchi in the chest. This is really a commonplace and deserves heuristic priority