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3 natural 'prescriptions' for asthma relief

It's easy to take breathing for granted, but if you have asthma, breathing doesn't always come easy. For natural relief, consider the herb ginkgo, the spice turmeric, or magnesium - a vital mineral.

Breathe comfortably with ginkgo. For more than a millennium, people in Asia have looked to the ginkgo tree as a source of healing. In recent years, scientists have discovered how ginkgo can make breathing more comfortable for people with asthma.

The same substance that causes your blood to clot when you get a cut can trigger an asthma attack. It's called PAF or platelet activating factor. PAF can cause allergic responses, including bronchospasms. This sudden narrowing of the main air passages from the windpipe to the lungs may feel like a tightening or squeezing in your chest, and breathing becomes difficult. Ginkgo can prevent this by blocking PAF.

Ginkgo biloba extract, sometimes called GBE or GBX, is sold as an herbal supplement in health food stores. You can get it in liquid form or as tablets or capsules.

The extract should he 24 percent flavoglycosides, 10 percent of which should he quercetin. It should also contain 6 percent terpenoids. Look on the label for the words "tannin-free" and "50:1 concentrate." The 50:1 ratio means it took 50 pounds of leaves to produce 1 pound of extract.

The recommended dosage is 40 milligrams (mg) taken three times a day. You may have to take the supplement for four to six weeks before you notice any effects. No serious side effects have been reported, but some people experience headaches or mild digestive problems.

Tame wheezing with turmeric. The plant curcuma longa grows wild in Java, but you probably have some of the spice that comes from its tuber-like rhizomes in your pantry.

The spice is turmeric, a main ingredient of curry powder. It's the pigment in turmeric, called curcumin, that gives curry its yellow color. This pigment, according to researchers from the Nihon University School of Medicine in Tokyo, can also help prevent asthma attacks. The curcumin curbs the release of substances that cause the symptoms of asthma, like wheezing and chest-tightening.

Although the study didn't specify a certain amount, the usual dose of turmeric for other conditions is 1.5 to 3 grams daily. You can get supplements in capsule or liquid form at health food stores. There are no known side effects from turmeric except occasional stomach upsets after prolonged use. If you have gallstones or a blockage of the bile duct, you shouldn't use it.

Stop muscle spasms with magnesium. Avocado, sunflower seeds, and pinto beans contain a lot of magnesium, which may help your lungs fight the muscle spasms of asthma attacks. In fact, doctors sometimes treat asthma with magnesium sulfate.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for magnesium is 320 mg for women over 30 and 420 mg for men over 30. Supplements are available, but your body can absorb the mineral better if you get it naturally from food. Nuts, legumes, seafood, and dark green vegetables are good sources of magnesium. Since it is easily lost during washing, peeling, and processing, choose fresh or minimally processed foods.

When it comes to magnesium, moderation is the key word. Too much can make you very sick, causing nausea, vomiting, or even paralysis or death. Getting too much magnesium from the foods you eat is usually not a problem. But magnesium is a main ingredient in some over-the-counter medication, including laxatives and antacids.

If you regularly consume large amounts of these drugs, you may be poisoning yourself. Check the label on any medication you are taking.


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