Pat Henry: Adopting a natural diet to combat asthma
Medical research indicates food has a significant effect on breathing, says our fitness expert
According to research, asthma is on the increase. At one stage, asthma was classed as an emotional problem which medics said triggered an attack.
The common perception was that you would grow out of it. This is not the case as people are now being prescribed inhalers and nebulisers to assist with breathing difficulties. As a child I remember gasping for breath and waiting for the doctor to give me the life-saving injection of steroids and within one minute, my breathing would be back to normal.
However, on many occasions I had to be admitted to hospital for several weeks. This also caused problems in school with sport - when you were out of breath it appeared you were unfit and this was frowned upon. I remember the difficulty I had chasing the ball in Croke Park with St Laurence O'Toole's GAA club.
Emotional turmoil certainly doesn't help, particularly when you felt the dread of the school exams. The treatment at that time was tablets which eased the breathing difficulties and, in severe cases, a nebuliser, which is a mask through which oxygen is slowly released, coupled with a steroid.
Nowadays, the use of inhalers is used for emergencies and steroid inhalers for prevention, which are the most common tools for treatment. Even some of our top athletes can be seen inhaling from dispensers before competition.
Moving forward many years, I remember teaching a yoga class to a group of medical professionals and pointing out the effects of foods related to allergies and breathing difficulties, and I remember I was immediately berated. I believe more consideration should be given to the type of food that patients get in hospitals as this may help improve the condition. Education on what foods can make the condition worse could prevent future attacks. Most food served in hospitals, in my opinion, is not suitable for asthmatics.
Food has an enormous effect on breathing and now medical research has finally verified this. For example, a diet high in junk food will block the airways and trigger asthma. From my own experience, there were quite a few triggers that brought on an attack.
One trigger for me was cats or dogs, particularly when visiting a house which had animals. Within five minutes, my breathing would become laboured which can be embarrassing if you are a guest at a friend's house. Also, certain flowers such as lilies with a strong vapour causes problems.
But most of all, any food which is mucus-forming - that's the sticky substance running from your nose or when you cough up. It's believed that the average person has around six to 10lbs of mucus in the body which can cause many other problems, including migraines etc.
Foods that have the highest effects for growing that mucus are all processed foods, all cereals (except porridge), rice, all bread,particularly soggy white bread, starchy vegetables such as white potatoes, pasta, all processed cheese, milk of any kind, and bananas. The reason for this is simple - when cheese and milk are pasteurised, which means being boiled at a very high temperature, they become very sticky.
Just look at your next toasted cheese sandwich or some sticky cheese pasta - they have a very clogging effect. I know these may be some of your favourite foods, but if you want to have clear breathing, you must reduce these foods in your diet. Particularly if you have children, stuffing them full of mucus-producing foods is not good.
Eat as naturally as you can. For the odd treat, try the farm-made cheeses, which are normally unpasteurised. I know this as a former cheese maker myself who won awards for cheese with non-mucus forming ingredients. I have first-hand knowledge of how it can be done.
The best I've ever felt was on a cleansing diet of fruit, salad, vegetables and some meat and fish. Keeping it really simple. I guarantee if you tried this for six weeks, your breathing would be at its best, but you would need six weeks at least to see the difference.
Top asthma tips
1 Avoid cats, dogs and some humans!
2 No rice, bread, pasta, cheese, milk, starchy, vegetables, no smoking and avoid dust.
3 Take up yoga breathing.
4 Swim, it helps to open up airways.
5 Buy a simple packet of balloons and try and blow them up each day for 15 minutes. This will increase lung power.
6 Get a breathometer to help increase lung power from the Great Outdoors or another sports shop.
7 Take up hill-walking.
8 Any form of exercise will help, particularly aerobic.
9 If using inhalers, especially Seretide, rinse your mouth out immediately or you may get thrush, which is very unpleasant.
10 See a good doctor who will use alternative treatments in conjunction with medicine.
For further information, contact the Asthma Society of Ireland
Health & Living