|Patients with asthma and allergic rhinitis may benefit from hydration and a diet low in sodium, omega-6 fatty acids, and transfatty acids, but high in omega-3 fatty acids (i.e., fish, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin, and flax seeds), onions, and fruits and vegetables (at least five servings a day).
Physicians may need to be more cautious when prescribing antibiotics to children in their first year of life when they are born to families with a history of atopy. More research is needed to establish whether supplementation with probiotics (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium) during the first year of life or after antibiotic use decreases the risk of developing asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Despite a theoretic basis for the use of vitamin C supplements in asthmatic patients, the evidence is still equivocal, and long-term studies are needed. The evidence is stronger for exercise-induced asthma, in which the use of vitamin C supplementation at a dosage of 1 to 2 g per day may be helpful.
It is also possible that fish oil supplements, administered in a dosage of 1 to 1.2 g of EPA and DHA per day, also may be helpful to some patients with asthma. Long-term studies of fish oil and vitamin C are needed for more definite answers. For the patient interested in incorporating nutritional approaches, vitamin C and fish oils have a safe profile.
However, aspirin-sensitive individuals should avoid fish oils, and red blood cell magnesium levels may help in making the decision whether to use additional magnesium supplements.
Combination herbal formulas should be used in the treatment of asthma with medical supervision and in collaboration with an experienced herbalist or practitioner of TCM. Safe herbs, such as Boswellia and gingko, may be used singly as adjuncts to a comprehensive plan of care if the patient and practitioner have an interest in trying them while staying alert for drug-herb interactions. No data on the long-term use of these single herbs in asthma exist.
For the motivated patient, mind-body interventions such as yoga, hypnosis, and biofeedback-assisted relaxation and breathing exercises are beneficial for stress reduction in general and may be helpful in further controlling asthma.
Encouraging parents to learn how to massage their asthmatic children may appeal to some parents and provide benefits for parents and children alike. Acupuncture and chiropractic treatment cannot be recommended at this time, although some patients may derive benefit because of the placebo effect.
For patients with allergic rhinitis, there are no good clinical research data on the use of quercetin and vitamin C. Similarly, freeze-dried stinging nettle leaves may be tried, but the applicable research evidence also is poor. Further studies are needed to assess the efficacy of these supplements and herbs.
Homeopathic remedies based on extreme dilutions of the allergen may be beneficial in allergic rhinitis but require collaboration with an experienced homeopath. There are no research data on constitutional homeopathic approaches to asthma and allergic rhinitis.
Patients with COPD are helped by exercise, pulmonary rehabilitation, and increased caloric protein and fat intake. Vitamin C and n-3 supplements are safe and reasonable; however, studies are needed to establish their efficacy in COPD. On the other hand, there are convincing data in favor of N-acetyl-cysteine supplementation for the patient with COPD at doses ranging between 400 and 1200 mg daily. Red blood cell magnesium levels may guide the use of magnesium replacement.
The use of L-carnitine and coenzyme Q10 in patients with COPD needs further study. The addition of essential oils to the dietary regimen of patients with chronic bronchitis is worth exploring. Patients with upper respiratory tract infections can expect a shorter duration of symptoms by taking high doses of vitamin C (2 g) with zinc supplements, preferably the nasal zinc gel, at the onset of their symptoms.
Adding an herb such as echinacea or Andrographis shortens the duration of the common cold. The one study on Elderberry's use for the flu was encouraging, and the data on the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum interesting, but more studies should be performed.
Saline washes may be helpful to patients with allergic rhinitis and chronic sinusitis. Patients also may try the German combination (available in the United States) of elderberry, vervain, gentian, primrose, and sorrel that has been tested in randomized clinical trials. Bromelain is safe to try; the trials of bromelain supplementation were promising but were never repeated.
The preceding suggestions need to be grounded in a program based on optimal medical management. Patients need to be well educated in the proper medical management of their disease and skilled at monitoring disease stability and progress. Asthmatic patients need to monitor their bronchodilator usage and peak flow meter measurements to step up their medical treatment in a timely manner, if needed.
Patients welcome physician guidance when exploring the breadth of treatments available today. A true patient-physician partnership is always empowering to patients who are serious about regaining their function and health.