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Allergies, Asthma, Antioxidants & the Immune System


Allergies, especially Asthma are on the Increase.

Vitamin C Plays a Dual Role.


According to Irwin Stone in "The Healing Factor",

"an allergy is an abnormal, excessive biochemical response by the body to the introduction of a foreign substance (allergen).  It is a bodily defense mechanism which has gotten out of hand...If the allergen enters through the skin, it may cause rashes or other skin disorders, the so-called contact allergies.  If the allergen is a drug or a certain food it may cause digestive upsets and other systemic symptoms of drug or food allergies.   Bronchial allergies are termed 'asthma'."

The Colorado HealthNettm site has loads of information on asthma compiled from the alt.support.asthma newsgroup.

  • Asthma on the Increase

According to the American Lung Association, since 1982, the prevalence of asthma in the U.S. increased by 49 percent; among children under age 18, the rate rose 78.6 percent. Hospitalization rates for asthma almost tripled between 1970 and 1980 and deaths have increased by 31 percent in the United States.  From an article in Better Nutrition "The statistics on asthma are startling enough to take your breath away: 14 million Americans have asthma and more than 4,000 people die each year from serious asthma attacks."

  • The Specifics of Asthma

Asthma is different in its symptoms from other respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, due to the "asthmatic attack". These "attacks" are actually spasms of the muscles surrounding the bronchi, the small airways in the lungs.  The spasms constrict these airways with the result being much labored breathing.  Compounding the attack is the bodies production of mucus, brought on by increased histamine,  an immune system response to the allergen.  It is generally recognized that ìattacksî are brought on as result of exposure to a higher intensity of allergen or possibly by stress (these are more similar than they seem.  An exposure to an allergen, medically referred to as a challenge, produces more stress to our systems.   "Stress" is different in the way we think about it, but also lowers our resistance, thereby reducing the level of "challenge" we will be able to handle.)  Tuberculosis can show up in this fashion.  Also, please see the discussion on Sick Building Syndrome.

  • The Role of Vitamin C

It appears that vitamin C plays two important roles in lessening the symptoms of asthma.  The first and foremost is the role C plays in with our immune system.  The bodies production of immune system cells is dependent on vitamin C.  The higher the "challenge", the more our C is used up.  It is important to remember that when exposed to a stress, the vitamin C in our bodies can be used up in a matter of seconds (see What C Does)!  This is why it is especially important to take vitamin C in multiple doses throughout the day when we are under stress.

The second role of C is as an antioxidant.  Asthma attacks often occur  when the lungs are under stress from allergens.  These allergens often produce oxidants that weaken the smooth muscle wall of the bronchi.  Vitamin C is the primary antioxidant in the lungs.  This may help squelch the oxidants, prevent them from weakening the lungs and avoid an attack.

Gary E. Hatch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, discussed the links between vitamin C and free radicals in an article appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Hatch explained that smokers and children of smokers have a greatly increased exposure to the asthma-promoting free radicals present in cigarette smoke. Many prior studies have demonstrated a strong connection between free-radical exposure from active and passive smoking and the development of asthma. Asthma-promoting free radicals are also inhaled from air pollution and produced by inflammation in the body. These free radicals can overwhelm the antioxidant defenses of the lungs if vitamin C (or other antioxidant) intake is inadequate.

  • Study Results

From the Tufts University Diet & Nutrition Letter, Feb. 1996, "As vitamin C intake goes up, the risk for asthma and other respiratory diseases appears to go down. Furthermore, out of 11 studies conducted since 1973, seven showed improved breathing in people with asthma who received vitamin C supplements. Other scientific work has shown 35 percent lower concentrations of vitamin C in the liquid part of asthmatics' blood than in the blood of nonsmokers and 50 percent less vitamin C in asthmatics' white blood cells."

From How to Live Longer and Feel Better by Linus Pauling:

"In a recent double-blind study of forty-one asthmatic Nigerian patients, twenty-two were given 1 gram of vitamin C per day, and nineteen were given a placebo, for fourteen weeks during the rainy season, when the asthma is exacerbated by respiratory infections.  The vitamin-C subjects had less than one quarter the asthma attacks during this period as the placebo subjects, and the attacks were less serious.  All of the thirteen vitamin-C patients who had no attacks during the fourteen weeks had at least one attack during the eight weeks after the vitamin was stopped."

  • Conclusion

It seems pretty conclusive to me that vitamin C plays an important role in lessening or even preventing asthma attacks.  Remember that most studies use much too little vitamin C.  When studies are inconclusive, as many are, always remember to investigate the vitamin C dosage.  Chances are great that better results could have been obtained with more C.

Please share your experiences with vitamin C and asthma.


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