Natural Remedies Can Beat Drugs in Quest for Asthma Relief
Q: I’m in my 60s and was diagnosed with asthma a couple of years ago. I was put on an albuterol inhaler, but my insurance made me switch doctors—and my new doctor prescribed Advair and Singulair. I don’t know much about them, but I’ve heard about some scary side effects. I’m not sure whether I should take them.
––Ann B., St. Paul, MN
A: I’m not surprised to hear that you were switched to Advair and Singulair—these are the fourth- and seventh-best-selling drugs in the United States. Advair and Singulair rake in $5.6 billion and $4.3 billion in annual sales, respectively. They’re backed by massive marketing campaigns, so I’m sure your doctor isn’t the only one with the names of these drugs on the tip of his tongue.
That’s probably not much comfort to you—the notion that you were switched to Advair and Singulair to help keep that money-raking machine rolling. It’s one thing if switching your meds makes good medical sense. But I think that in many cases when folks are put on Advair and Singulair, there’s no good medical justification at all.
Advair combines an inhaled steroid and a long-acting airway opener (bronchodilator) in an easy-to-use delivery package, shaped like a disc. That, in my opinion, is where the good news ends. Advair carries an FDA “black box” warning that notes an increase in asthma-related deaths in patients receiving salmeterol, a bronchodilator found in Advair. Other side effects include an increased rate of bronchitis, anxiety, headaches, tremors, and irregular heartbeats—and that’s just naming a few.
Singulair, a pill for asthma, is now associated with reports of suicidal behavior and Churg-Strauss Syndrome (CSS), in which blood vessels become inflamed. In its most severe form, CSS results in severe bodily pain, lung, heart, kidney or liver damage, and possibly death. Although rare, it’s obviously anxiety-inducing to know that problems like this can occur. And if you have asthma, the last thing you need is anxiety.
Other Singulair side effects include headaches, abdominal pain, flu-like symptoms, tremors and anxiety. And keep this in mind: Side effects that get reported in drug trials are generally estimated to represent only a fraction of what all users experience––as little as 10 percent of actual events.
Drug giant Merck claims Singulair allows you to reduce your need for inhaled steroids—the cornerstone of mainstream asthma treatment. Inhaled steroids can have systemic effects at high enough doses—including osteoporosis and blood sugar problems. So anything that lowers dosage needs is a good thing. But science shows there are other ways to reduce steroid doses—so what do you need Singulair for?
There are plenty of things you can—and should—do before even considering the use of Advair or Singulair. I have one patient who was essentially cured of her asthma with high-dose cod-liver oil. I recommend between 2,000 and 3,000 mg of DHA plus EPA from cod-liver or fish oil. (I prefer Carlson’s or Nordic Naturals.) I also recommend getting at least 10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of a good probiotic daily. That should be about two doses, one in the morning and the other before bedtime.
Also, make sure your 25-hydroxy vitamin D level is in the range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter. That generally translates to taking 2,000 IUs of D3 daily. Vitamin D has anti-inflammatory effects—and asthma is an inflammatory disease. You want to do everything you can to fend off that inflammation.
Two other asthma-fighting tools are diet and exercise. Many of my patients don’t realize that extra weight increases inflammation. I recommend that you start exercising more and change over to a diet that includes fresh, unprocessed foods—straight from nature or as close as possible. If you fill up on such foods, you won’t have the room —or desire—for packaged, highly processed sugar- and flour-filled fakes.
Anything with high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated trans fats can boost inflammation, so avoid those ingredients.
I also recommend Buteyko breathing training for my patients. It’s a technique based on Yogic breathing principles developed to treat asthma. It helps to calm your stress response and the reactivity of your airway. It will reduce your symptoms and need for asthma drugs. Go to www.buteyko.com for more information.
And I do recommend you talk to your doctor and let him know your concerns.
About the author
Dr. Inglis works closely with his patients to help them take charge of their health and well-being without resorting to expensive drugs and dangerous surgeries.
He is currently the director of Integrated Health Solutions, and is on the board of NOAH - a wellness center in Great Barrington, MA.