Category Archives: Asthma: Experience and Treatments

My Asthma Dream? Thank You for Asking!!

The last couple of days have been fascinating. I sit here in my New Jersey hotel recapping the experience in my mind as I try to capture it through my keyboard. I am both grateful and hopeful. Grateful for the opportunity to have shared my experiences with severe asthma and how a holistic approach has changed my life, and hopeful about the work that is going on with research and new medications to further the progress. Let’s jump right in with the good stuff.

I arrived at Newark Airport and was greeted at baggage claim by this smiling face.

Hey, C. Stephens. That's me!

Hey, C. Stephens. That’s me!

That’s right. Mmmm hmmm. Who’s a rockstar?! Okay, I know. EVERYONE on this side of the country gets a car to pick them up so they don’t have to drive in the city, but this Pacific Northwest girl felt like a rockstar.  Let’s go with it!  Walter, thanks so much for the hospitality and showing me the surrounding area.  You were a gem! (I hope you’re reading this. I told you your picture would show up here!)

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a short run this morning to clear my head, take in some beautiful east coast fall weather, do some praying, and think about what I might say to this group.  I really had no idea what to expect but I was okay to just take a leap of faith, put it all out there, and see what happens. Here is the view I took in while I meditated and thought about how clear my lungs were as I was running; an impossibility just a few years ago.

image

If you have followed this blog, you know that for most of my life, my asthma ruled it. I hate that they call it a disease, but that’s what it is. I grew up in and out of hospitals, on constant mass doses of “heavy-hitter” medications which ultimately did not control it, much less get to the bottom of the problem, and it only got worse as I got older and my lung started collapsing. You also know that I am stubborn and determined and I would imagehave done anything to be able to live and breathe freely and be able to participate in the adventurous and athletic life to which I am predisposed. Finally, you know that what changed my life was learning about how nutrition is a major contributing factor to truly controlling it. (If you’re just coming across this blog, I encourage you to pop a hearty bowl of popcorn or brew a big pot of awesome coffee, sit back, and start from the beginning). I’ve learned that what we take into our bodies can and does actually FEED our diseases if it’s the wrongimage stuff.  It really isn’t rocket science. Asthma is all about inflammation.  So if we KNOW that certain foods cause inflammation and certain supplements reduce it naturally, it seems like a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? If we can find a way to marry proper nutrition with effective medications, I truly believe we can change the lives of severe asthmatics all over the world. But my progress towards health and knowing what it’s like to live like a normal person without asthma for most of my days was gradual. I still take medications as needed and I still have triggers that render me immobile for days at a time. But that is becoming more and more rare and the need for meds has reduced signficantly and most days, I FORGET I have this. And given that for most of my life, I was prednisone and inhaler dependent, that is no small miracle. It’s huge.  That’s what was on my mind as I went into this panel meeting.

I’m not sure I can put the experience into words that will do it justice but here’s my best attempt. We were sourrounded by physicians and scientists from all over the world, all focused on how to improve the quality of life for asthmatics. I was bursting and my emotions were hard to contain. I was so grateful to be in that room with so many focused on the very thing that robbed me of basic breath for so many years. Wow! What impressed me most about this group was that they were genuinely interested in the experiences of the patient panelists. They asked many questions of each of us but the two questions posed to all were, “What is it like to have an asthma attack?” and “If you could have a dream for asthma treatment, what would it be?”  Of course, we all agreed that finding a cure is the ultimate dream.  Until then, we each had our own response.

Mine will not surprise you.  I would love it if treating asthma from a holistic approach was commonplace; that when a person was diagnosed, they would receive not only education on the disease and what to expect and how to know the triggers; not just a bottle of pills, an inhaler and a schedule for taking allergy shots or bi-monthly injections. Let’s automatically add into the equation an education on how certain foods cause inflammation and how nutrients like vitamin D, omega 3s, antioxidants, vitamin C and a good solid probiotic will give the body what it needs at the cellular level so that the need for being rescued is diminished or even eliminated (all researched). It is NOT about having a severely restricted diet.  This truly is pretty stinking easy.  And it makes so much sense! The only regret I have is that I didn’t discover it earlier.

Still, if all of my years of suffering – all of the hospital visits, the lung collapses, the embarrassing notes to excuse me from PE class, the days of coughing non-stop and disrupting those around me, standing on the sidelines while others played, the sheer panic of not being able to breathe – if all of that was for the purpose of helping just one person out there change their quality of life, I would do it again.  I really would.

I would be remiss if I did not mention my fellow panelists. It was surreal listening to other people describe MY experiences. We nodded in agreement at the commonalities in our journeys of struggling for breath and how it has impacted our lives. We also marveled at the diversity of our disease, and how some medication cocktails work for some and not others, among other diversities. Another reason why a holistic approach to treatment makes so much sense.  At least in my mind it does. I so enjoyed meeting all of them.

I don’t know if what I had to share was helpful or not. I was the only one on the patient panel who would no longer be categorized as “severe.” I’m so happy that I have reached this place and I hope that what I had to share was helpful in some way.

I’m currently reading a book called “The Circle Maker” by Mark Batterson. It’s all about praying circles around your biggest God-given dreams. I have a huge dream here and plenty of praying to do to see it through. I am more hopeful than ever before.

For now, my rockstar chariot awaits.

Thank you, Julio from Uruguay for getting me safely to the airport. You were a delight to chat with!

Thank you, Julio from Uruguay for getting me safely to the airport. You were a delight to chat with!

It’s time to chase the dawn back to the Pacific Northwest, from the Freedom Tower to the Space Needle, and back home to Spokane Valley.

Here’s to breathing well and a life without limits. Go get it!

Coming up: Days 2 and 3 of my Sunny’s Pedal, 300 mile bike ride through Idaho to raise awareness and money for organ donation. No inhaler necessary.  It was quite an adventure!

Taking Flight for Asthma – Now is Your Chance to Be Heard!

Tomorrow morning before dawn, I will board a flight to New Jersey. The opportunity before me is still feeling a bit surreal and I’m still wondering what God is up to as I let it sink in. I’d like to extend the opportunity to YOU as well!

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013 in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Sanofi Pharmaceuticals is holding a meeting which will involve an afternoon severe asthma patient panel on the research and development process. I have been asked to be a part of this panel and I would love to give my readers an opportunity to chime in as well. I’ve been asked to provide the following from the perspective of a life-long asthma sufferer:

■ Share my story. I have to limit this to 15 minutes. I’ll talk fast!
■ Pose research questions that I think are important
■ Offer insight on the best ways to communicate research results to patients
■ Offer advice as to what are important motivations and disincentives for patients to participate in clinical trials
■ Discuss the role and importance of quality of life in human subject research

Given that I am now nearly 100% pharmaceutical free and more active than ever, and that this transformation is due to changes in nutrition and giving my body what it needs at the cellular level, it will be interesting to see how this goes. I still use medications when necessary but they are so much more effective now that my body gets what it needs on a daily basis, which means I don’t have the need to be rescued as much as I used to. The final step in this process for living well with asthma is knowing my triggers. Sometimes they are unavoidable (cold/flu/sinus infections/weather/stress) and I occasionally succumb to my illness. It is in those days that I am most thankful for the healthy ones which are more abundant than ever before. Talk about quality of life! The added bonus is that I can actually exercise and truly LIVE and BREATHE like a normal person most of the time, even during intense and/or long workouts. I still pinch myself at the difference it has made in my life.

My absolute passion is to help other asthmatics to see that there is a better and natural way to approach asthma care and maintenance. I believe I have a unique opportunity here to broaden the discussion to the nutritional aspects of asthma care or even elimination. Still, there is a need for pharmaceuticals at some level and I hope to make a difference there as well.

Are you an asthma patient? Do you have kids or other family members with asthma? If this was you presenting to this panel, what would you want to say? I’m all ears. Please send me your questions/suggestions via this blog and I’ll make sure I pass them along.

Mount Spokane Summit

Mount Spokane Summit

In the meantime, keep living and breathing strong, and never give up!

 

Asthma Q and A

On my blog stats, I can see questions that people have googled which eventually led them to this website. I find myself excitedly answering the question out loud to my computer screen (sometimes shouting!) but have no way of getting back to that person. Thank goodness SOME things are hard to trace. It saves me from feeling like a stalker trying to track someone down to answer their question. But it gave me an idea. I’m going to start listing those questions here and offering my best answer as they come up. Chances are, someone else has the same question and in fact, many of the ones I see are repeats. I’ll keep adding to the list here so that all questions are on the same post. If these trigger other questions and you want to ask, feel free to add yours as a comment on this post. Let the discussion begin!

Q: “my peak flow is 190 should I go to hospital”

YES!  Although the “magic number” for each person is slightly different, this is a very low peak flow and I would recommend you go in.  It really is based on what your “personal best” peak flow measurement is.  Click here for a link to a great website all about peak flow and if you scroll down, there is a chart.  Now this chart does include “personal best” measurements that are themselves below 200 but I cannot even fathom that that would be considered a normal for anyone.  At any rate, I’d say whoever asked that question is really struggling.  Go in and get checked.  I hope you feel better soon.

Q: “Triathlon asthma crazy”

I’m not sure who googled this of course, but this is my favorite entry which led someone to my blog.  I love that the word “crazy” is used here.  I can’t be certain of the intent but I assume this person is wondering if it’s crazy to think about doing a triathlon if you have asthma. While I don’t really hold up a measuring stick between people’s experiences and how to label them, my own personal philosophy on adventure is, “the crazier the better!”  But that’s just me.  The real question here I believe is, should you consider doing a triathlon if you have asthma?  I hope that by reading my blog this person’s question was answered with an explosive “absolutely!”  While I still have more to post about what I’m doing to control this, I hope that what I’ve laid out thus far is helpful.  I still rarely take my inhaler and I’m looking forward to a nice trail run this evening with friends.  I still work out almost every day.  There’s no reason to think you can’t.  Just be mindful of your symptoms and if it’s time to make changes nutritionally, take stock of your goals and decide if that’s what you want.  And then GO FOR IT!

Q: Will running clear my asthma with colds?

A: In my experience, if I’m already having symptoms, I opt out of running until I get it under control.  If it’s just a slight wheezing, then a hit on my inhaler will do the trick and I carry on.  But if I have a cold, which is MY biggest trigger for serious episodes, I go see my naturopathic doctor imediately.  You have to know your own symptoms and know them well.  Losing a day or two of training isn’t terrible, but losing days/weeks as a result from a more serious episode if a cold gets out of hand IS terrible, and difficult to recover from.

Q: Asthma and milk + Vitamin D.

A: To me, this is two different issues. Asthma and milk: I haven’t found clinical studies that prove that dairy in general causes asthma and in fact, I wouldn’t say it has ever been the primary cause of my symptoms. But I CAN say, whether there are clinical studies to conclusively state it or not, every time I have ingested any dairy when I am symptomatic, it immediately makes my symptoms worse. I stopped most of my dairy intake not because of any clinical study, but because of personal results and those of other friends who have taken the same route. We have all had the same outcome. I decided that, if dairy is the first thing I have to avoid when I’m sick, why take it in when I’m healthy?

On the other hand, there are plenty of clinical studies which support the assertion that Vitamin D has a positive impact on asthma, and it is part of my “magic formula” for controlling my symptoms. Click here for a recent study from researchers at Harvard.

Q: If you are on an inhaler for asthma how do you run a half marathon?

I love this question because it makes me think of how many times I had to slow down or use my inhaler during my first half marathon, and now I don’t remember the last time I used it during a race at all; half marathon or much longer even.

A: The short answer is take your inhaler 15 minutes before you start. Once the race begins, take it slow at first until your lungs warm up, and then run according to how you feel. If you start feeling wheezy or short of breath, slow down or even walk a little. Some do a consistent walk/run combination but every person is different. This really depends on your training up to the race. If you are training properly, you should have a very good idea of how much your body can handle before it becomes symptomatic. The more you train properly and pay attention to your symptoms, the more prepared you will be on race day and you’ll know how to respond, whether it’s to use your inhaler, slow down, or go for it if you are feeling good.

The longer answer is, if you make sure your body is getting the proper nutrients consistently, it will naturally fight off inflammation, which is what asthma is all about; chronic inflammation. If you control that on a day-to-day basis by giving your body what it needs, you will find that you don’t have the need to be rescued as often, or at all. I was inhaler dependent 7 years ago. Three months ago, I raced in an event for 17 hours straight and didn’t need the inhaler once. That is remarkable! It works. It really does work. Check out these posts for more information. They provide plenty of links to some great research! Controlling Asthma: My Magic Formula, Vitamin D and Asthma, Omega 3s and Asthma

Q: Is taking prednisone before an Ironman a good idea?

A: If you are under a doctor’s orders to take it already, then it wouldn’t be a good idea to stop until you have properly tapered off of it. If it’s the first time you’ve taken prednisone, just be aware that there are a LOT of side effects, they are different for everyone, and some take longer to kick in than others (hours or days). Click here for a decent, although not all-inclusive list. Hopefully you have some time before race day so that you know how your body is reacting to it. I wouldn’t avoid the race if you feel up to it. But I certainly wouldn’t take prednisone if it’s not being prescribed. Every time prednisone is prescribed, the GOAL is to get off of it as soon as possible. I always find that ironic. “Here, you need this medication but then you need to get off of it ASAP because it does horrible things to your body.”

Q: Do Omega 3s help asthma?

A: YES! Check out my blog entry on that very topic here.

Q: Can I still be an athlete if I have asthma?

A: I jumped up off of my exercise ball chair at this one, yelling “Yes, of course you can!” I hope the person who asked that question and read through this blog felt that way too after reading it.

Q: I have asthma. Could I still work in musical theatre?

A: Absolutely! You might encounter the same issues that every asthmatic does but that’s no reason to throw in the towel on something you love. Go for it!

Q: Can your lung collapse with asthma?

A: With an acute attack, yes.  Mine has collapsed three times; once completely, twice partially.  Each time, the doctors were redisent to actually state that the asthma episode was the primary cause of the collapse, so this is still unclear to me.  But I will say that each time it has collapsed, it has been in the midst of an asthma episode, so despite what doctors told me at the time, I lean towards what I believe to be the obvious.

If you have a question, post it on the comments and I’ll add it to the list and give you my best answer.

LIFE WITHOUT LIMITS!

Omega 3s and Asthma

In addition to vitamin D and antioxidants in the right amounts, omega 3 fatty acids are another significant piece of my magic formula for controlling severe asthma so that I can train, play and live without the fear of an attack or serious episode.  And no, omega 3 fatty acids won’t make your butt look big. In fact, their extensive health benefits have become so desirable, that there are entire recipes, even full cookbooks dedicated to this special ingredient.

Specifically, their role in my formula is to eliminate chronic inflammation, but I gain additional benefits as well. (Including brain function, although I know some who might disagree with that one). Click here for a great slide-show documenting the numerous benefits in picture format, along with brief descriptions of each.  I like pictures and brief.  Slide three specifically addresses how omega 3s fight inflammation.

The Wikipedia definition of asthma states that it is “…the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways…” Therefore, treating asthma (and many other illnesses) is all about controlling inflammation, whether you have mild, moderate or severe symptoms.

“Asthma is a malfunction in the body, specifically the airways, caused primarily by low-grade internal inflammation. Whole-food derived micronutrients and antioxidants along with optimal levels of vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids provide your cells with the critical nutrients they need to function normally and reduce or eliminate this chronic inflammation.” Rick Cohen, M.D.

Check out this article in “the conscious life” on inflammation and its impact on the body overall. Note the extensive list of diseases which are characterized by underlying inflammation.

This statement in particular catches my attention:

“At this point, it’s not difficult to see that if your diet comprises more of omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids (which sadly is true for most of us), you are literally promoting inflammation inside your body.”

Whaaaa?  I was promoting it!!? I didn’t have a horrible diet, but I was most definitely eating things that evidently promoted the illness while passing over the kind of nutrition that would fight it off naturally.  Then I’d take medications on top of that to control the symptoms that were caused by the inflammation, which were in turn and in part caused by my lack of proper nutrition. Yikes! I was mortified when I figured this out. Not just at doctors who would rather stick to strictly pharmaceuticals and telling me “no.” (They said that a lot, and I don’t like to be told that I can’t before making sure that it’s truly the case. I’m glad I never really believed it was). But I was also appalled at myself as the pieces began to come together.  I know this information is out there. True, it’s much harder to dig up than traditional means of treatment, but it is there.

The description below speaks to me. It’s in a language I can understand, it makes sense, and it’s ridiculously simple when I look at it this way.  It’s beyond my typical self-scolding and understanding that I need to eat healthy for the sake of being healthy.  This explains to me exactly why getting the nutrients I need can (and does!) alleviate my asthma symptoms almost entirely.

“Our bodies are composed of trillions of different cells carrying out more than 200 specialized functions.  In order to achieve optimum health and performance, our cells must be operating efficiently and communicating with each other well.

Still, we often make choices that don’t provide for our body’s basic, cellular needs. When our cells start breaking down or stop functioning properly, we begin to experience “symptoms” which are typically grouped together and labeled as a “disease.”  When this happens, we are often encouraged to focus on an external “fix” rather than an internal cure. And we default to using pharmaceutical products or individual nutritional supplements in an effort to alleviate the effects without addressing or even identifying their precipitating cause.

We now understand though that at the root of most chronic illnesses such as asthma is chronic inflammation. While short-lived acute inflammation from injury is crucial to keep us alive, chronic inflammation is extremely harmful to our health.  Long-term exposure to low doses of inflammatory substances attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. And unlike a bruise or a cut sustained to the skin, they do not always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen. Just like a slow poison, chronic inflammation destroys our health and body gradually.

There are a myriad of factors that contribute to chronic inflammation and increased risk and severity of asthma and other illnesses. They include:

*An inadequate diet resulting in deficiencies in whole-food derived micronutrients and antioxidants
*Inadequate sun exposure resulting in less than optimal levels of Vitamin D
*Increased intake in processed seed oils and inadequate intake of omega 3 oils from fish.
*Excessive or chronic mental or physical stress.
*A diet high in sugars and carbohydrates that cause blood sugar imbalances and insulin spikes.
*Lack of quality sleep
*Excess body fat
*Exposure to environmental toxins such as GMO foods and estrogenic chemicals like BPA, parabens and phthlates
*A damaged gastrointestinal tract caused by imbalanced gut flora and/or reactivity to gluten in modern hybrid grains

If you are looking for a lasting solution to looking, feeling and performing better, you will have much greater success to work from the inside out; to satisfy your body’s most fundamental needs by nourishing and protecting its cells. Like a ripple on the water, improving the health of your cells can initiate visible, continual and far-reaching effects.

Powerful results will occur when you address the above lifestyle and diet causes of inflammation and combine them with a comprehensive nutritional program designed to optimize cellular health. The key factors necessary are micronutrients and anti-oxidants derived from raw, organic fruit, vegetable and herbal concentrates, optimal amounts of absorbable omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D3 and an essential amino acid blend.”  Rick Cohen, M.D.

My half marathon PR. First time I was able to give an all-out effort without stopping to walk, and without needing my inhaler, even at the end.

This was my big “ah-ha” over the last couple of years. Once I made the changes above in addition to eliminating dairy in my diet, I began to see consistent relief from symptoms, even while training! I no longer have shortness of breath after a mile or two (or twenty!) of running, unless I have been slacking off. And as severe as my asthma has been, it was easy for me to notice those changes right away. I had assumed that the only way to really treat it was through pharmaceutical medications. Not so. Yes, there is a time and need for the meds, and I take them when necessary. But what a difference.  I used to go through a rescue inhaler every two weeks whether I was exercising or not.  Now they expire before I use them. (Coaches in the house: We’ll talk about my form later. I know this needs work!)

I then learned about specific treatments for when I contract a cold or any underlying infection which typically triggers my asthma.  I’ll share those details in another post. It’s definitely different from mainstream medicine but after 40+ years of trying everything else, I was willing to try different.  And it has worked. Every single time I have contracted a cold or sinus infection. Results are everything.

For a review of my specific formula for controlling my asthma, click here. It’s important to note that just adding one of these nutrients alone will not make the overall difference.  All pieces of the puzzle are necessary.

So how much of each?  It’s a good idea to get your levels tested first, and then ask your doctor.  Thankfully, more people have jumped on the “taking care of myself” bandwagon and subsequently, there are plenty of quality products out there.  Food sources are always the best choice but I just can’t get everything I need that way so I supplement. I get my vitamin D (sublingual spray!), omegas, antioxidants/micronutrients/amino-acid blends from www.core4nutrition.com.  Their Core 4 Nutrition is fantastic and helps me stay on track with the nutrients I need at the cellular level. What I love about it is that their supplements are derived from whole foods and they don’t contain junk fillers like many products out there. They also have an assessment package that comes with a full consultation so they talked me through their recommendation for how much I should take of each. Then I cross-referenced with my regular and naturopathic doctors. So far, none have disagreed on this.  It was recommended that I take 3000 mg of omega 3s per day, and that the EPA and DHA combination add up to at least a third of that 3000 mgs. I get my vitamin C through Super Supplements. (I take a LOT of Vitamin C!).

No easy path for cutting out dairy if you are used to taking in quite a bit.  But there ARE a lot of other great foods out there. And most of them don’t have unappetizing names like “To-Furky.” Seriously, who came up with that?

For the scientific research-minded person, here are some great references:

Omega 3 and inflammation
Belly fat and asthma – sorry
Vitamin D and inflammation
Poor sleep and inflammation
Oxidative Stress [environmental factors] and asthma

So while omega 3s won’t necessarily make your butt look big, they can and do make a huge difference in your health.  Take care of your cells, friends.  Happy breathing!

$3750.23 Raised for Asthma!!

Just a brief post to say thank you to all who supported my efforts to raise money for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America via the Ironman Foundation through my Ironman journey.  Together we raised $3750.23!! 

And no…that is not a typo. Three thousand, seven hundred fifty dollars….and 23 cents.  To find the story behind the 23 cents, visit the “My Ironman Journey” link at the top of this page. You’ll find the significance of that number towards the end of that fantastic journey.  In case you missed it as it gets buried in this blog, here is a short video introduction to the story; be sure and watch to the end to see what happens!

Thank you to the Ironman Foundation who also kicked in $250 towards my final total! And as far as I can tell, it appears that my fundraising page is still active. If you feel so inclined, donate as you wish. It’s tax deductible and for a great cause.  They do a lot of work with education, research and supporting clean air initiatives.  My fundraising page is HERE.  Give it a shot if you wish.

Thank you everyone!!

Stay tuned for more racing, adventure and of course, dialogue about controlling asthma.

Life Without Limits!

D for Determined; Vitamin D and Asthma

When I began to progress from short distance running and triathlon events to endurance race distances, I started paying more attention to nutrition, both for the sake of athletic performance as well as overall health. It didn’t occur to me at the time that this may also have a positive impact on controlling my asthma.  You may recall in an earlier post that when I decided to train for my first triathlon, I called my asthma doctor and told him what my intentions were and asked if there was a way to better control my symptoms.  At the time, I was still using my rescue inhaler several times a day.  I was disappointed to hear him say, “no.”  That was it.  Just….no.

Ugh.

So I continued training and using my meds. Ha! I simply went as far as I could, and when I reached what I knew was my limit, I’d stop.  It required more rescue inhaler however, and three months later I received a call from the doctor’s office.  They were concerned about the number of inhalers I was going through. I referenced the call three months earlier, and I made an appointment to see the nurse practitioner.  I was prepared with a big speech about how I didn’t want to have to stop training; that ultimately what I was doing now would help my asthma in the long run if I could just figure out how to do it and not trigger my symptoms; that I didn’t want this disease to control me or force me to stop doing healthy things.  I didn’t have to give the speech.  She proposed a possible solution; Advair.  And it worked!  At least, better than anything else I had used at the time.  Later, I would find that it still wasn’t a complete answer and that underlying any prescription medication regimen, giving our bodies the nutrition they need at the cellular level should come first. But I didn’t know that yet, and at this point, I needed to just be able to exercise. After about a week, I was able to run (okay, jog) without needing my rescue inhaler; for the first time in my life! A part of me was really annoyed that my doctor in that same office had told me just three months before that there was nothing more we could do, and here is this NP who hands me a solution that would allow me to continue.  But I was so elated that I let it be. It had unfortunately become par for the course for me.  I know this hasn’t been every asthmatic’s experience; I’m so glad. I often think that my asthma was so bad that doctors simply ran out of answers.  And yet, one was sitting right under my nose and I didn’t know it.  Apparently they didn’t either.

As I trained and looked into nutrition, a friend referred me to some specific products that were created ‘by athletes, for athletes.’  I went to their website and looked around.  Having no official education for nutrition, I was simply doing what most people do; research on the web, ask friends and doctors. I noted on this website however, that I could have a phone consultation with one of the developers and I decided to give it a try.  I wanted to find out what I really need at a basic nutritional level but I also wanted to ask what, if anything, they knew about asthma and how I could combine these two goals; endurance racing and controlling my asthma.  Until then, they were two different concepts; take my preventative meds and hope they hold out, take my rescue inhaler when needed, exercise when I can.  But I would still have episodes caused either by a cold or environmental factors, and that would take me out of the training game for a while.  I wanted to merge the two if possible; training and controlling asthma.  So I asked Tim if that was possible.  He didn’t skip a beat; he absolutely thought it was.  He suggested that I first get my vitamin D and other blood levels tested.  I had done so through regular physical examinations and my numbers always showed as “low” so I took over-the-counter supplements.  I now understand that many of those contain mostly fillers, which is why they weren’t effective in bringing up my levels.  As part of their product line, these athletes/doctors included an assessment package so I ordered it and had my levels tested.

I learned more on that phone call with Tim than any other conversation I had had previously about basic nutritional needs and how it not only impacted overall health and athletic performance, but how it could also help my asthma by building up my system at the cellular level so that my body’s natural defenses would prevent symptoms long before they manifest. It’s more than short-term relief or long-term control of symptoms.  It’s preventative. I started to look at asthma control in a different way.

I mentioned Vitamin D.  I have had two doctors independent of each other recommend 10,000 IU, and then my own doctor agreed when I asked him what he thought about that.  That’s important to know.  Before I take any new nutritional supplement, I ask a doctor.  It’s like food allergies; one person may be able to eat spinach, which is really good for you.  Another, like my mom, might be allergic to it.  Know your body.  The recommended dosage may be different for me than for someone else.  I learned recently that too much Vitamin D can be harmful for those who have a history of developing kidney stones. Know your body.  When I am in the sun for hours at a time, I reduce my intake to about 6000. During dreary winter months when sunshine is limited here in the Pacific Northwest, I take in 10,000.  (I use a sublingual spray; fast and easy…..I’ll get to that).

So, these people who created nutritional products “by athletes, for athletes;” they caught my attention.  I have had many conversations with their science advisor, Dr. Rick Cohen over the last couple of years.  (I’ll provide the website information at the end of this post — because I can hear your question!).  I learn from him, then cross-reference with my regular general practice doctor, who also treats me for the asthma. Every time so far, he has agreed that what I am proposing is a good idea. He just doesn’t initially discuss it as a treatment for asthma; but he agrees when I bring it up.  I recently started to see a naturopathic doctor for other reasons. At my first appointment, he asked me what supplements I am taking and how much.  I received an A+ for the Vitamin D, Omega 3 and antioxidant intake.  He recommended the addition of Vitamin C at higher levels (again…for me…this higher dosage recommendation isn’t for everyone). But remarkably, he echoed the SAME things that Dr. Cohen and his associates were recommending, which in turn, my doctor agreed was a good idea. That’s more than good enough for me. Getting these nutrients has made a phenomenal impact alone.  Coupled with a healthy, clean diet (yes, I cheat sometimes), has made all the difference in the world.

But enough of my jibber-jabber. Here is what Dr. Cohen has to say specifically about Vitamin D and its impact on asthma.

“Asthma control isn’t always about having your meds on standby and taking them the moment you feel the telltale signs of an impending attack. It’s about having your body’s defenses ready to help fight off an attack on its own, with or without meds.

And one of the most important parts of that defense system is vitamin D.

One new study of 1,024 children with mild to moderate asthma finds that kids who don’t have the right levels of D have a harder time getting the disease under control, even after taking their asthma meds. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120713080022.htm

By one critical measure, the D-deficient kids had less than half of the lung improvements seen in kids with normal levels of D after taking their meds.

The difference was so dramatic that researchers say doctors should test asthmatic kids for vitamin D and continue to monitor their levels — and if those levels ever fall, the kids should be given supplements.

You don’t often hear mainstream doctors and researchers recommending nutritional supplements, so you know this one’s a big deal — and not just in children.

In kids and adults alike, vitamin D plays a key role in overall lung function. Proper D levels may even help keep attacks at bay and lessen their severity when they do strike.

One review of nearly 60 years of research found that low vitamin D levels led to problems with lung function, increased airway reactivity and worse overall asthma control among asthmatics.

In other words, if you want to breathe easier, make sure you get your D — and if you suffer from asthma, be sure to combine increased D levels with other natural treatments such as B vitamins, dietary changes, and homeopathic remedies.

You might never reach the point where you’d feel comfortable leaving your rescue inhaler at home. But if you take the natural approach, you might not need to be rescued nearly as often.”

Rick Cohen, M.D.
Know your body. Find your edge.
www.core4nutrition.com

For me, that last statement says it all.  It’s what I have been saying throughout this blog; that with this new focus on nutrition at the cellular level, not only do I not have to be rescued very often, but I can train and race for hours….. 17 hours and 23 seconds, even…… and not have to be rescued once.  If that is possible for someone like me, whose asthma has been severe my entire life; to the point that most doctors have given up and had no solutions, I have hope that this can work for others.  It just makes sense.

There are plenty of good products out there.  So much so, that it’s overwhelming when it comes to making a decision. What a great problem to have.  I get most of my supplements through the website noted above; www.core4nutrition.com.  I like it because I can get everything I need (except that I get my Vitamin C elsewhere). They have individual products in addition to comprehensive packages (I use their Core 4), designed to give me Vitamin D, Omegas, antioxidants, etc., and then I adjust it every now and then as necessary; I’ll swap out something that I have enough of with an extra Vitamin D, for example. That’s the sub-lingual spray I use. I love it. And I have to say that for the first time, I am taking an Omega 3 supplement that doesn’t have me burping up fish taste for hours! It’s liquid and tastes like peaches. Not kidding! Side note: I accidentally forgot an Omega 3 liqui-gel capsule in my jeans pocket once. A few hours later, I noticed a very strong, nasty fish smell.  It broke in my pocket!!  Never was able to get that smell out. Can’t bring myself to throw them away but they stink! Perhaps I’ll keep them for fishing.

Vitamin D is just one piece of the puzzle; stay tuned for more. That’s all for this post.  It’s Friday and there is a rafting trip calling my name!

Controlling Asthma: My Magic Formula

(updated 1/4/2014 because I am constantly tweaking as I make new discoveries about my illness and triggers)

How is it possible for a person who has suffered from severe asthma her entire life to be able to now live most of her days symptom free, including endurance racing?  How is it that I can now swim, bike and run long distances, hike for hours, mow the lawn, plant flowers, race and train (often outdoors) during pollen season, laugh hysterically, have all-day outdoor physical adventures, and make it through most colds without symptoms?  How can I race for 17 straight hours and not have to use my rescue inhaler once?  I get asked this question a lot and while I am not a medical doctor, I have been living with this since I was born.  What I have experienced in the past versus what my condition is like now is remarkable.  It has allowed me to live and do the things I want to do more often than not without any symptoms.  Consequently, I feel a responsibility to share what has made such a difference in the hopes that it might help others with this illness.  The answer is a combination of things, but it’s really quite simple.  I’ll disclose in an abbreviated version and then tackle each piece separately in subsequent posts so as to focus on the significance of each piece. While the magic formula isn’t exactly the same for everyone, there are some basic essentials.  I’ll point you to some of the research where I can.  I have collaborated with some doctors who will help explain in more detail over a series of posts.  I am still working through some things in my own formula, constantly tweaking as new things come up (residual smoke from forest fires, inversions and air pollutants, etc.). But the basics of what has turned my life around are….. well, basic.

The short version of the answer is twofold:  Environment and nutrition.  Stay with me!

Asthmatics are not created equal; at least with regard to our symptoms. Some are classified as severe, others mild. We live in various climates, have different allergies, and numerous levels of reactions to triggers. What causes symptoms for some, may not for others.  Still, if you list most symptoms and triggers associated with asthma, we’ll likely find commonalities in varying degrees.  Mold, cockroaches (not kidding! those buggers are awful for us!), dust and damp environments are some of the worst environmental triggers for all asthmatics.  If you have recently moved and your asthma sypmtoms have started or worsened, your environment may be the key.  Our approach to treating symptoms for most of us is quite similar.  We typically have a long acting preventative medication as well as a rescue inhaler.  In more severe cases such as mine, powerful drugs like prednisone may be prescribed.  In my personal experience, these work for a time, but always with side effects and there is still the occasional trip to the hospital and certainly periods of time where exercise or even minimal daily activity is out of the question.  Until age 35, I didn’t know what it was like to live symptom free, whether I was exercising or not.  I literally went through a rescue inhaler every two weeks, using it several times a day.  Occasionally I would make it for three weeks and felt like that was progress.  Most of my doctors have agreed that this is not controlling asthma; it’s asthma controlling me.  No, thank you.

I still take my medications but the prescription has dramatically changed due to the corresponding change in my condition and I am on most days I am now 100% pharmaceutical free!   I didn’t change that prescription on my own; I worked with my doctor.  It was so fun to see his reaction as my nutrition and immediate surroundings turned my life around.

Here is how it came about: I began to wonder if there was something more I could do in my own life to better control the symptoms. I started looking into maintaining overall body health, from the inside out.  It can feel overwhelming and confusing with all of the information out there, but I started to see some themes in what doctors were telling us all in terms of what our bodies need, but we’re typically deficient.  Vitamin D, Omega 3s, antioxidants, CoQ10, Vitamin C; the list goes on.  I wondered: What if I really start focusing my daily nutrition on getting what everyone needs regularly? Would that make a difference in my asthma?  I figured the side effect would be better health overall, and if it also happened to help with the asthma, even better.  It did, and far beyond what I could have imagined.  The next step was to figure out how to get what I need.  I know that the best option nutritionally is through organic food sources but in order for me to get the essentials in the proper combinations, I’d have to have a personal chef and a much bigger wallet.  I changed my diet so that I am eating the right kinds of foods but I also supplement to ensure I am really getting the nutrients my body needs.

Next, I had to decide which supplements to take and from where.  This is where it can get overwhelming; there are so many good choices out there.  That’s when I discovered some Drs/endurance athletes who were essentially reinforcing what I was doing but from a medical perspective; including how it can impact asthma.  I get most of my supplements through Core4Nutrition.

Finally, the bonus: I recently stumbled across a type of treatment for colds and sinus infections as well as environmental allergies that take care of my symptoms almost immediately.  Several times now, it has saved me from asthma complications, effectively avoiding antibiotics and prednisone and literally returned me to health in a day.  One day!  It has worked every time. I’ll get to that too.  For now, let’s get to it already!

My Formula: It’s all about CONTROLLING INFLAMMATION. 

1) I cut out dairy, almost entirely.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have cheese on my pizza; I’m not that die-hard!  But it’s a rare occasion and when I have dairy it’s in moderation and never when I have symptoms.  I figure it’s the first thing I have to avoid when I’m sick because it makes it worse almost immediately, so why ingest it when I’m healthy?  Not rocket science (I do know a rocket scientist by the way, and he concurs with that argument). I do remember doctors restricting this from my diet as a kid.  I used to sneak into the kitchen late at night and drink milk.  Most often it was straight from the carton because I didn’t want to leave behind the evidence of using a glass.  Sorry, mom. Now I actually prefer coconut milk and I’ll use almond or rice milk on occasion.  The thing to keep in mind here is that when we’re healthy, we might be able to have things like dairy and not notice anything. But it’s important to understand that it IS having an impact on your body’s ability to fight inflammation so just because you can’t feel it, doesn’t mean it’s not building up. I say that to myself every time I feel the urge to take a giant swig of cold milk.  I usually overcome that urge but I do endulge every now and then.

2)  Vitamin D: My daily recommended dose is 10,000 IU.  This seems high but I’ll explain that later. If you Google “studies on vitamin d and asthma,” you’ll get a long list of results. In fact, Harvard researchers recently released a new study. You can find it here.

3)  Omega 3s:  One doctor recommended 3000 mg per day, another 1500.  I take 2000 unless I am noticing changes in the air.  Today for example, there is a bit of residual smoke in the air because of a major forest fire in our state, so I’ll take 3000.  Again, Google some research and you’ll find plenty, but for starters, here is a good one.

4)  Appropriate levels of anti-oxidants:  So much information on this one. Here, for example.

I get my Vitamin D, Omega 3s and Anti-Oxidants first from foods, but I also use whole food supplements via the Core 4 Nutrition plan at www.core4nutrition.com.

5)  Vitamin C:  One doctor recommended 10,000mg daily for regular maintenance, with an increase to 15, 000 – 20,000 during pollen season or when I have been exposed to someone with a cold or sinus infection. Caution:  A body can only absorb a certain amount of Vitamin C at a time so I had to work up to this amount and in smaller doses throughout the day.  It can also cause diarrhea, which is another reason I had to work up to it.  My body can take that much per day but there are some who may not be able to. Studies on this have been mixed but at least indicate that there is some positive impact.   Something to consider.  This has been a big one for me.  I also found studies that show that people with a history of kidney stones should avoid too much vitamin C so if that is you, do your research and ask your doctor.

6) Eating “clean” as much as possible and taking care of my digestive system so that toxins are cleared out. A good probiotic is essential here.

7) Prescription Meds (RARELY used now!) My doctor prescribes Advair for daily maintenance and a rescue inhaler for when I am symptomatic.  Advair is what originally allowed me to start running.  It was amazing and I hardly use it at all now except for during pollen season. Occassionally I use a rescue inhaler.

I do more than the above for overall health but these are the essentials that specifically help target my asthma symptoms, specifically inflammation.  To be honest, research confuses and frustrates me.  I generally find a myriad of conclusions on most topics.  One study says to do one thing, a few years later they say the opposite.  One drug is touted as the best thing since sliced bread, and later we find out all of the reasons that it’s harmful and in many cases, lawsuits ensue.  What I have NOT been able to find is research that says that the above list of nutrients are harmful and won’t help asthma symptoms at all.  It may be out there but everything I have seen seems to support the notion. That was reason enough for me to try it. And the bottom line for me is results. I am 44 years old and I am in the best health and shape of my life which is a far cry from frequent trips to the emergency room and being rendered inactive for long periods of time, not to mention (but I guess I am) nearly losing my life to this illness several times. This works and what’s more, it makes sense.

I know I’ll still have symptoms sometimes.  When I do, I’ll report it here and let you know what I’m doing to combat it. I may even end up on prednisone again for a brief period and/or benched from athletic activity for a time. But the infrequency of those episodes in comparison to what it used to be is literally night and day.  For me, struggling to breathe normally used to be an everyday reality to a degree. It isn’t anymore and I suspect it will continue to improve.  It has allowed me to start really living without the fear of an attack or full-blown episode around the corner.  I am in the best physical and therefore mental condition of my life.  And with that new-found life, I have a list to get to.

I hope this helps as a beginning point for good dialogue.  It really is just the beginning!