Functional Medicine: Addressing the Root Causes of Asthma

The question this week is, “what causes asthma and what can I do about it? How do I get rid of these terrible symptoms that I have?”


inhaler for asthma

This post showed how an asthma patient fixed her allergies symptoms by addressing the root causes of asthma: her gluten allergy.

Asthma is a big problem. It affects 8.4 percent of the population or over 25 million Americans (including many children), and it’s increasing every day in America.

Why? For a number of reasons: increasing environmental toxins, increasing pollution, increases in food sensitivities and gut problems, food additives and dyes, increasing use of antibiotics and medications, and increasing consumption of Frankenfoods with altered proteins and other strange ingredients. All these things can trigger asthma.

So, what can we do about it? Functional Medicine is medicine by cause not by symptom. We focus on finding the root cause, while most conventional treatment focuses on just suppressing the symptoms.

I saw a patient in the other day. She was 42 years old. She had actually died twice from respiratory symptoms due to her allergies. We call it anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergy reaction.

She had to be coded with paddles to revive her. She was taking 42 different sprays, pills, and potions every day, which had been prescribed by top doctors at Harvard. She had seen the lung doctor, the immunologist, and the allergist. Everybody was trying to fix her and no one could, because they weren’t asking the right questions. They were trying to suppress the inflammation rather than trying to address the cause of the inflammation, a very different perspective. That’s the perspective we take in Functional Medicine: getting to the root cause.

When this patient came to see me, I ran some tests in order to understand exactly what was irritating her immune system. I looked for the common causes and asked a few simple questions. Is it food allergies? Is it environmental allergens? Is it mold? Is there something wrong with the bacteria and microbes in her gut? Is it a toxin? What about stress or a poor diet? All of these things are potential triggers for asthma and all chronic disease.

In her case, I found out that she had very high antibodies to gluten, an indication that she had celiac disease, which turned out to be the root cause of her asthma. This was completely missed by the top medical school and university in the country, because they don’t think that food might have something to do with disease. It’s just not something they are taught to look for in medical school.

One Harvard doctor said to me, “if food was medicine, I would have learned about it in medical school”.

So, what did I do for her? I simply removed the things that were causing the problem. I got rid of the gluten, cleaned up her gut, and got rid of the bad bugs. Then, I put in good bugs and nutrients, like fish oil, vitamin C, and zinc. A few simple things helped restore and balance her body, and within six weeks, she was off every medication, she had no symptoms, no allergies, no hives, and no asthma.

We have a very simple rule in Functional Medicine: if you’re standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make it feel better. Get the tack out, and you don’t need the aspirin. That’s really the focus of Functional Medicine—fixing the cause.

More Causes of Asthma

Why do we have an epidemic of asthma that affects as many people as heart disease or diabetes?

asthma kid using inhalerOne example is that we have increased our C-section rates. More than half of all new babies are now being born this way. When babies aren’t delivered through the birth canal, they don’t get the bacteria from the mother’s vagina in their intestinal tract. This prevents them from developing normal, healthy gut flora, which is important to a healthy immune system. They also might not be breastfed, which, again, impedes their immune development. They might be fed foods like gluten and dairy before they are one year old (like all the Cheerios fed to babies who are teething), which can trigger an immune reaction in an immature immune system. They might be given a lot of antibiotics for sore throats or ear infections, which also create disturbances in the gut flora. All these things, over time, will trigger more allergies, more inflammation, and more problems.

One study found that if women with a family history of allergies were given acidophilus during pregnancy, their babies were 50% less likely to develop asthma, allergies, runny nose, and eczema—very simple intervention, very low risk, very powerful.

The goal here is to get rid of the things that are causing the problem and then help the body to reset. What we do is very simple.

How To Cure Your Asthma

We get rid of the bad stuff, starting with the foods that might be a problem—gluten and dairy are the most common cause of asthma. And then, we put in things that the body needs to heal, and we clean up the gut. There may be yeast issues; there may be bad bugs that are growing in there. We clean those out, and then we put in good things like healthy bacteria and probiotics.

If you have asthma, here are some simple things you can try to get to the root of the problem and re-balance and cool off your immune system:

  • Do an elimination diet (see The UltraSimple Diet) to get rid of the most common food allergens. Gluten and dairy are the biggest culprits!
  • Look for other causes (food additives, pesticides, chemicals, pollution in your environment).
  • Check for mold in your home or work. See to learn more.
  • Consider taking antifungal herbs such as oregano or medication, such as Diflucan or Nystatin
  • Take probiotics. I use Ther-Biotic Complete, two capsules twice a day with my patients.
  • Take fish oil, which is anti-inflammatory. I use Omegagenics 720 one or two capsules twice a day.
  • Take extra zinc. I use Zinc Citrate, 30mg one capsule twice a day for my patients.
  • There are the types of things we do in Functional Medicine to help reset the body. But much of this can be done through SELF-HEALTH, the process of taking care of your own wellbeing.

Take out the bad stuff, put in the good stuff, and your body knows what to do.

Now, I’d like to hear from you:

  • Have you had asthma?
  • What causes it for you? Do you know?
  • What’s worked to help it and what hasn’t?

Share your experiences with us in the comment section below, so you can help others and we can help you. And if you like this House Call, sign up above to get it every single week. Share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter. Also, submit your questions so that, next week, I may make a House Call to you. Thanks for joining me.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

Source: “Breathe Easy – Addressing the Root Causes of Asthma“, written by Mark Hyman, MD, published in his blog.

Personal Note: There is a strong correlation and link between people with asthma and eczema. Most people with childhood or adult onset eczema had some form of childhood asthma condition. I had childhood asthma which went away as I reached my teens. I like this piece on Functional Medicine – medicine that works and functions truly, by addressing the root causes of asthma. Medicine should be functional, targeting the problem instead of solving the symptoms. There are always iatrogenics of medicine, but when we target the problem directly, the benefits of helping the patient greatly outweigh the costs of the iatrogenics. 

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  1. kristi says

    It is very misleading statement that gut issues can cause asthma. Or food allergies. In most cases it’s linked to hayfever or other environmental allergies, it’s the airway which reacts to inhaled allergens/irritants, how possibly can airway get inflamed from dairy?????

  2. says

    Hi Leslie. Thank you for the post.
    Asthma and Eczema goes hand in hand. I have eczema and my husband had asthma as a child. Our eldest was diagnosed with severe asthma within the first few weeks of life, the second child received my eczema-prone skin.
    Proof enough that it is in some people’s genes – point number one.
    Then triggers – gluten is a definite trigger for both and because I know it triggers my own eczema I was wary of it in my children, eliminating anything that brought on an asthma attack or an eczema flare-up.
    Certain types of foods and colourants are severe triggers, as are environmental factors such as sudden temperature changes. We moved to a moderate climate for my first child and her asthma is now almost non-existent, as long as we watch the triggers.
    Because of our Axhilirit products, we have come to notice a pattern in clients and areas where they order in from. Severe environmental stresses for eczema is polluted areas such as townships (informal settlements) and mining industry areas. Asthma in these areas are also a high occurrence.
    In most babies, we find that if the mother changes her diet to exclude certain products, the eczema disappears in the breast-fed infant. I am sure eczema and asthma can at least, in part, be controlled though diet.

    Note: The comment is based on the personal opinion of the writer. The relevant information has been compiled from 20 years of personal experience and feedback from clients. Contact a healthcare practitioner if eczema-type symptoms persist.

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