Eric Bakker N.D.March 30, 2022

Did you know there are many natural medicine treatment options when it comes to asthma? Why take pharmaceutical puffers that block immune function?


 Asthma Treatment Plan

Asthma and the Buteyko method go hand in hand. Welcome back to part 2 in the asthma series. In Asthma part 1  we looked at some of the likely causes which present conventional treatment. Let’s look at some of the natural ways we can help a person diagnosed with this common complaint.
This article will also mention professor Buteyko’s breathing method, a technique I have taught for several years now in the clinic. It is a simple technique when utilised properly will ensure that an asthmatic will be able to dramatically reduce their inhaler use. In most cases, these silly plastic gadgets can be thrown where they belong – into the waste paper basket.
It is only in a very rare instance that a patient needs to rely on the use of a broncho dilator drug. Why am I so confident making this statement? Because I have helped countless patients improve their breathing and thrown these drugs away, and in one case the male patient was using Salbutamol over 30 times daily and told to keep a spare one in his pocket and car at all times! Asthma is all about fear, and this is a powerful emotion which ensures the patient is scared enough to comply to the doctor’s wishes. Scared in enough in most cases to remain an asthmatic for “life”, with a daily reliance on drugs and accepting the diagnosis as being fixed and inevitable.

Asthma and Breathing

Breathing exercises that help to normalize the breathing pattern will always help to improve asthma, but only if practiced regularly. If you have any breathing issues such as asthma or recurrent chronic bronchitis, then regular exercise in general, such as walking, swimming, yoga, Tai Chi, and relaxation exercises, can help profoundly to deepen and relax your breathing. Whilst some of these techniques may be more difficult for a child, swimming is excellent, more on this later.

Stress has an amazing way of increasing our heart and respiratory rates, and I’ve noticed that stress and anxiety seem to be a common with many asthmatics. It makes sense to learn to relax, and once the asthmatic learns to relax a lot more, their breathing often improves a lot.

Drugs for Breathing Problems are Crazy

asthma child
If there’s one thing I really can’t understand, it’s a child being placed on an inhaled drug (like a “puffer”) who then develops a dependency on this drug. Why aren’t doctors working with the parents and the child to help lessen their dependency on these drugs? It’s crazy. Since I learned about the Buteyko Method, and have referred countless children to a Buteyko practitioner, I’ve seen many hundreds of children no longer require these drugs.
My son is 18 now, but at six months developed bronchitis one winter. The doctor was quick to point out that my son had ‘asthma’, and should immediately start using Salbutamol. Thank goodness I had just started naturopathic practice a few years prior and had realized that drugs for a six-month-old child were just madness without an excellent reason.
My son responded rapidly to essential oils, to herbal treatment and a change in his diet. His health picked up quickly, and he has never looked back. He has since never been ill, nor ever taken any drug, including antibiotics, vaccinations or other such drugs. I’ve learned over 26 years of naturopathic practice, that once a person begins on the ‘drug merry-go-round’, they end up requiring regular drug treatments, including with all kinds of these chemical concoctions that our bodies were never designed to use. This is not the way I like it. I believe that the body healed itself given the right circumstances, and it is our aim in our naturopathiprofession to empower you to facilitate this process.

Before Salbutamol (Ventolin), asthma used to be treated with breathing exercises

With a little common-sense, some of the best books on health and wellbeing I’ve seen are the older books, including a little publication from 1963 called “Asthma and your Child” by NZ Physiotherapist Bernice Thompson. Her book was so successful that the NZ National Film Unit actually made a film from the book in 1967,  breathing exercises for children.
Some people have told me over the years that older health books are “out dated” and why do I bother to refer to them? I’ll tell you, these valuable older books were written by practitioners in by-gone days, when they spent time with patients. Clinical practice was more hands-on and practical. There was no Dr. Google to give any instant answers. No screens for a doctor to be distracted by. No mobile phone notifications.
Pre 1960s-70’s, health-care professionals spent a lot more time with their patients and many taught effective techniques and home procedures and also encouraged healthy foods and lifestyles which positively affected their patient’s health.
Today it’s ten minutes if you are lucky, and half that time the doctor is looking at a screen and not you. A notification will flash on her screen, notifying your doctor the patient’s 10 minutes are up and another three patients are now waiting. Dugdale and associates mention in a 1999 study that in the United States, visit rates above 3 to 4 per hour lead to sub-optimal visit content, decreased patient satisfaction, increased patient turnover, and inappropriate prescribing.
Before technology and the internet, people seemed to more time, and had to rely on home remedies and were much more hands on with their children than most parents are familiar with today, especially with respiratory and digestive problems. Just ask your grandmother, she will be quick to tell you about how her mother used all sorts of remedies which she was taught herself.
According to Parisius and colleagues in a 2014 study, based on a survey of 480 of 592 patients from 37 medical practices were included, according to a response rate of more than 80%. Home remedies were widely known and used by almost 80% of  respondents (on average 22 different home remedies were used per person).
It was common for example to give a baby an enema if her bowel was blocked.  Antibiotics were available but not as freely prescribed in the early 60’s in clinical practice, and asthma puffers were not quite employed as yet. The powerful tiny antibody commonly involved in asthma responses (called IgE) was only discovered in 1966, before this they had no clue of what was involved with asthma and immunity. Asthma back then was a rather rare phenomenon. Incredible as it may seem, studies have shown that asthma itself has been linked today to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics, aspirin, paracetamol and even the asthma drugs themselves.

Breathing Exercises Were Once Common Place

Bernice Thompson states in her little self-help asthma book: “I want to show you how you can help your child, the intelligent use of breathing exercises is one of the most important factors in improving a child’s respiration, and when used correctly these exercises will always improve the child’s whole physical set-up. In fact, in many cases the asthma itself can clear up altogether”.
Children are today not commonly taught any breathing exercises when they are diagnosed with asthma or have recurring respiratory complaints, except the effective use a puffer because asthma is considered a dangerous condition and that as a responsible parent you should encourage daily use of medications.

Fear Mongering

Instilling a child’s parents with fear will ensure that millions more drug prescriptions will be continually sold by companies who effectively use fear to market their profitable drugs, with little regard to how they can improve a patient’s condition with healthy diet and lifestyle choices. Read: the pharmaceutical industry and disease mongering.

Eric’s 10-Step Asthma Plan

Check for likely causes. If you look at each individual case, it doesn’t take long to establish one or possibly more causes. If you can’t establish a likely cause with a health problem like asthma, you are unlikely to be able to correct or modify it which will mean you will be treating the symptoms with drugs, and sometimes long-term. We spoke about stress and emotional causes, environmental, heavy metal toxicity, postural problems and more last month. Decrease or avoid known traumas and emotional triggers family environment, dependency issues of the child.

1. Is it really asthma?

It is true, I have more than a few young patients over the years who were diagnosed with asthma, but once we found the triggers, the case was solved because lung function improved and drugs like puffers and antibiotics were no longer necessary. My son was diagnosed as being “asthmatic” but was in fact dairy intolerant. Once all cow’s milk was withdrawn from his diet his respiratory function improved a hundred percent, so did his recurring chest and ear infections. Make absolutely certain that you have tried other means to improve your child’s lung function, before launching into into a daily regime of broncho dilatory drugs and inhaled steroids. Look for the cause; improve their diet and emotional health and their environment first.

2. Stop Being so Germ Phobic!

Television is a great way to get people hyped up, look at those advertisements about germs and how clean we should live. I’m not suggesting living in a filthy house, but researchers now suggest that a growing obsession with disinfecting everything in sight may help explain the rise of asthma over the past couple of decades. One hundred years ago, more people lived on farms, hygiene was poorer, and there were no bacteria-killing drugs and asthma was hardly around then.
In essence, the modern phenomenon of placing children in sterile environments and giving those antibiotics for the tiniest sniffle has helped make them far more susceptible to asthma, as well as creating bacteria strains which are today almost totally antibiotic resistant. It is not the big bad bugs that we are exposed to that actually cause most of the health problems like asthma that we have. Rather it is related to factors that suppress our immune system such as a poor diet, lack of emotional support, and exposure to poisons and toxins like immunisations, food additives, mercury and petrochemicals.

3. Breastfeed Your Child

Investigators found that children who were breast-fed in the first weeks of life had a much lower asthma risk. They also linked breast-feeding with lower risk because breast milk provides immune factors not present in formula. And when the formula is introduced, what is in it? That’s right, cow’s proteins, which are in fact the most allergenic food you can possibly give a child.
Multiple studies have shown that breastfeeding profoundly influences the development of the infant oral and gut microbiota, which have been independently linked with asthma development
Asthma incidence is far greater in the Western world than the undeveloped countries (with all their germs), possibly due to the fact that women here feed their kids on the breast for up to 5 years. Many women I see have to go back to work, and are lucky to breastfeed for 12 weeks. Breast is always best.

4. Lowest Possible Drug Dose For Symptom Control

Many with asthma will routinely take two types of inhalers on a daily basis to control their asthma symptoms. Western medicine seems more about “control” of symptoms rather than allowing the patient to make sensible choices themselves, allowing their body’s own innate ability to self-correct. When the patient is in control of their asthma rather than the inhaler, they can begin to lessen their drug dependence and may even be able to discontinue altogether, breaking the cycle of drug dependence leading to symptom suppression.
A recent meta-analysis of the roles of long-acting beta-agonists indicates their danger to asthma patients. A study (Annals of Internal Medicine 2006) found that long-acting beta-agonists increased the risk for asthma hospitalisations and asthma deaths 2 to 4 times when compared with placebo. What doesn’t surprise me is that The New York Times (USA newspaper: November 2007) reported a review of more than 500 studies finding that independently backed studies on inhaled corticosteroids are up to four times more likely to find adverse effects than the studies paid for by drug companies.

5. Buteyko Breathing

This is paramount, particularly for those chronic patients who may take puffers every few hours during of the day. Most puffer dependent patients can quickly learn how to breathe more efficiently and reduce their need within weeks. I have been teaching asthmatics the basics of the Buteyko method for many years and have seen wonderful results. It is really true; many patients (clinical trials showed between 85 and 96%) can throw their Ventolin™ puffer away in time. For the sceptics, here are two studies that may change your mind about Buteyko breathing.
  1. A comprehensive 2012 study was published online and concludes: “Buteyko breathing significantly decrease the recurrence and the severity of the main bronchial asthma symptoms(including nocturnal waking, morning symptoms activity limitation, shortness of breath, wheezing, and inhaled corticosteroids dependence). It significantly increase PEFR (peak expiratory flow rates) . Buteyko breathing will improve patient’s function level and the capacity for independent living by decreasing the severity of asthma symptoms and recurrence of asthma attacks.”
  2. A 2008 randomised clinical trial showed that both the Buteyko and control (physiotherapy) interventions produced a favourable outcome in that over 70% of the participants enjoyed asthma control 6 months after completing the intervention. In addition, the subjects in the Buteyko group were able to significantly reduce their daily doses of inhaled corticosteroid.”
Ask your naturopath if they help you, or who can refer you preferably to a qualified Buteyko practitioner.
  • Do you live in New Zealand? Then you are in luck, you should pay a visit to one of the world’s best Buteyko teachers, Glenn White, who lives in Auckland. Click here to be directed to his website.
  • Do you live in America? Then my suggestion is that you contact the Buteyko Breathing Educators (BBEA) in North America. Here is a page that will show you different Buteyko practitioners, it is best to contact somebody who is fully qualified:

6. Back and Chest Massage

with particular emphasis on strokes which open out the chest and shoulders. Aromatherapy can be quite helpful in dealing with asthma because a number of essential oils have calming and antispasmodic effects that can encourage emotional balance, ease the struggle to breathe, and cause broncho dilation. During an actual crisis, inhaling an antispasmodic oil is of good help, and direct sniffing from the oil bottle (with supervision) or give a small bottle with a plastic insert from only which a drop can be dispensed , or put a few drops on a tissue or handkerchief, particularly with a child.
The choice of essential oils will depend on many factors such as whether or not there is infection present, or whether emotional factors are involved, ask a good aroma therapist. Some of my favourite oils with asthma are cajuput, cypress, eucalyptus and lavender. Be careful because some asthmatics may react strongly to essential oils, so trial carefully first.

7. Diet Changes

Diet can be a hidden source of many problems for the asthmatic. The early onset of asthma is sometimes even triggered by a child not being breast-fed at all, or only having been breastfed for a few weeks and then placed on a cow’s based infant formula.  With adults, a source of concern is alcohol and preserved fruit, which may contain sulphur dioxide. An asthmatic who is particularly sensitive may even react to as little as a few parts of sulphur dioxide per million!

A restrictive diet for the first 12 weeks to see if there is any food involvement      

And/or Szentivanyi first described the “Beta Adrenergic Theory of Asthma” in 1968; in which a blockage of certain receptors in the lungs (Beta-2 receptors) actually causes asthma. Szentivanyi’s theory is now considered a medical classic and has been mentioned more times than any other article in the history of the prestigious Journal of Allergy. In 1995, Dr. Szentivanyi demonstrated that the immunoglobulin IgE (the most powerful antibody involved in allergies) actually blocks beta-2 receptors. Since overproduction of IgE is central to allergic diseases, this was a quantum leap in the world of understanding allergies. Now think about this, there are some foods which stimulate a strong IgE response in the body; does it therefore not make good sense for the asthmatic to avoid them as much as possible, at least initially as a trial?

Avoid the key allergenic foods temporarily

I generally recommend the removal of the following foods temporarily, because they have been shown through clinical experience to aggravate the immune system of an asthmatic and eczema sufferer who typically has a “trigger happy” IgE responsive immune system. These foods include dairy products (particularly cow’s milk, yoghurt and those yummy dairy ice creams, chocolates, peanuts, nuts in general, bananas and oranges.
This food group may also include avocado, corn, eggs and wheat, but first see if the other foods are involved. I often tell parents to watch their child and see which food/s they want the most, because there will often be a food they strongly desire which belongs to the allergenic group. For children who are in separated family situations, take care when they go to dad’s place for example on the weekend.
I have seen a few children develop “mysterious coughs” on a Monday or Tuesday after dad got them a double scoop ice cream on a Sunday. The child’s mother may well have them on a restrictive diet and adhere to a strict regime of dairy avoidance, so checking out when the asthma is at its worst can help a lot to establish the triggers.
Watch grandma or grandpa or aunt too, they may think it “unfair” that you are depriving the kids of treats, not fully understanding the immune involvement with an asthmatic and may potentially undo all your good work, so be firm.

Be aware of food intolerances

Keep your child away from those pesky dairy and supermarket counters as they can be a real trap and will only encourage your child to pester you for sweets until you usually give in. Sugar has an interesting effect on the immune system; it actually depresses it and by its acidic nature in the body only encourages the production of sticky mucus.
Other mucus forming, clogging and devitalised foods to avoid are cow’s milk and other dairy products (which we have already covered under immune trigger foods), white breads, soft drinks and those sugary sachets which make up sweet drinks, chewing gum and junk foods. Give your child less red meat temporarily, because it comes from the cow which also produces allergenic milk, and give more fresh fish or chicken or egg which is lighter and more easily digested protein sources.

Eat more anti inflammatory foods

Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, onions and kelp contain a flavonoid called quercetin, and grapefruit contains naringin, an anti inflammatory flavonoid, all of these foods can help reduce inflammation in the body. Methionine is an amino acid found in protein rich foods, and it binds to excess histamine, making immune reactions much less severe. Grade-A proteins contain large amounts of methionine, and include tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, salmon, chicken and tofu.Avocado, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds on the other hand are rich in vitamin E, which has been found helpful in calming inflammation in the lungs as well.

Watch the fats in your child’s diet – give omega 3 daily

Toddlers who consume large amounts of margarine and foods fried in vegetable oil may be twice as likely to develop asthma as their peers who eat less of these foods. (Thorax August 2001;56:589-595 ) Diets high in polyunsaturated fat (found in margarine, vegetable and sunflower oils) boost levels of omega-6 fatty acids in relation to levels of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils). Omega-6 fatty acids contribute to the production of compounds involved in inflammation and may therefore contribute to inflammation of the airways. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish and fish oil supplements, inhibit inflammation on the other hand. This could explain why kids from lower income families living on foods like white breads, margarine and jam are much more prone to asthma. Give Omega 3 fish oils supplement daily to any child with asthma please; you are making a huge difference here.

8. Build Immune Health To Reduce Need For Antibiotics

To reduce the need for antibiotics to treat infections which are commonplace with asthmatics, use nutrients to bolster the person’s own immune system. These may include liberal use of vitamin C, vitamin A, zinc, copper, iron and glandular extracts. Taking a good pro-biotic is another way to build excellent immunity, and recent research validates this. See us for the right strain of pro-biotic rather than buying just one over the counter. There are many types now available and a “practitioner-only” is one I would recommend over the ones you buy at your health-food shop.

9. Herbal Medicines

For asthma I would commonly use herbal medicines like grindelia, adhatoda, wild cherry, licorice, aniseed, goldenseal, echinacea, marshmallow, and various others. I can thoroughly recommend a visit to a good herbalist. Herbs are best taken several times daily and can really help with breathing difficulties as well as help to effectively treat the infections which an asthmatic is prone to. Why take antibiotics? I have always treated my 4 children with their winter coughs and colds with herbs and not once ever resorted to antibiotics with any of them. Herbs don’t have to taste foul either, ask for a “glycetract” formula, nice and sweet and the compliance with children is increased considerably.

10. Nutritional Medicine

The main nutrients I have found through my studies which can positively affect the asthmatic include vitamins C, B6 and B12, magnesium, zinc, iron and selenium.
The addition of a high quality multi vitamin and mineral supplement is recommended to counter any deficiencies here. In addition, a porcine glandular extract can have a most positive effect on the asthmatic’s immune system by helping to normalise the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, (the body’s innate stress response) by allowing cortisol,  the powerful immune-boosting hormone produced by the adrenal gland, to normalise, which in turn will “down regulate” an over stimulated immune system (IgE). The end result is that the IgE responses eventually settle right down.
A glandular extract is a particularly helpful addition if steroidal preventative puffers have been used for some time. Why? Because steroidal drugs effectively suppress the body’s production of its own steroidal (adrenal) hormones, allowing the immune response in one sense to be suppressed, thereby “preventing” an asthma attack, but on the other hand allowing the hypersensitivity (IgE) responses to continue unabated by suppressing the production of cortisol. I have personally verified this glandular approach clinically now for the past two years and even witnessed one severe asthmatic’s peak flow volumes more than double in less than twelve weeks.
The doctor was astonished to say the least, and quickly reduced the patient dependence on four different antibiotics. When you have asthma as severe as this lady, more than 40 years, you become permanently dependent on steroids and antibiotics because you are always sick. Your bones begin to crumble and your skin becomes as thin as tissue paper as the Prednisolone takes its toll.


Treating asthma can be a most difficult and frustrating endeavour, especially for the parent. However, the above mentioned environmental modifications, Buteyko method, dietary avoidances, nutritional supplements and herbs can in combination dramatically help to reduce the overall burden. In many cases, my 10 step asthma plan can help prevent the asthmatic from even having to use beta-agonist bronchodilator or steroidal puffers, or they can be used as an adjunct to these drugs to allow lesser usage or lower drug dosing.

However they are used, it is important for the practitioner to fully investigate the patient’s reactivity to substances in their diet and environment and promote avoidance of those substances, as well as encouraging proper nutrition and lifestyle practices that will reduce the overall immune burden. You can make a real difference here, and asthma truly is one of those chronic conditions where the best results will come with an integrated and holistic approach.


Breathe Well, Be Well

Dear Eric,
Having read through your Asthma webpage, I see you are well versed in benefits of Buteyko.  Well done.!
Yes I agree with your recommendation of Dr Ameisen’s book. It was first published in New Zealand,  I only now realise he is an Australian.  The Starks, Russell and Jennifer are the main ‘guru’s ‘ for Buteyko in your part of the world.
I would like to comment on your use of word ‘deep’ …. you use it early in your section to describe a style of breathing to be promoted for helping asthma.  In fact an asthmatic cannot take a ‘deep’ as in big breath and it contradicts the idea of Buteyko approach.    I prefer to use the term ‘shallow’,  a small breath but originating from deep in the lungs as drawn in by use of diaphragm muscle. I do not like to see the description of ‘maximum pause’ on the website.  The use of this is much discredited and was singled out by Prof Buteyko on his trip to New Zealand in the last years of his life. It’s use is not necessary to achieve results and abuse of same could lead to tragic consequences and bring the movement into disrepute.
I am actually not teaching at present.  I found it hard to generate students and keep a ‘practice’ going without some other therapy to offer.  Not to promote both at same time but for one to carry the other.  For example physiotherapists learn Buteyko as it complements their work and the physio ‘hat’ will provide insurance cover and other ongoing expenses.  I had hoped to work with just one doctor and would be happy with part time hours but it has not worked out  to date. I keep up the hope that some day a tsunami of interest will break over the world.
Thank you for taking an interest and delighted to see you promote Buteyko,  “Breathe well, be well”
With best wishes from Dublin
Anne Burns, Ireland


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