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Asthma explained - A model for understanding inflammation

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 by: Andrew Kim
Tags: asthma, inflammation, treatments

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(NaturalNews) The pathology of asthma is complex. Asthmatics have increased susceptibility to environmental factors and inappropriate responses to them. The responses are bothersome and adaptive in the short term, but if left untreated, progresses to organic changes in the airways that are debilitating and life threatening. Therefore, avoidance of triggers and early, symptomatic treatment is important.

An overview of the events that occur in the airways of asthmatics

The airways of asthmatics are highly inflamed. The blood vessels are dilated and engorged with blood and their walls leak fluid and protein into the surrounding mucosa, causing edema and eventually fibrosis. The airways are infiltrated with inflammatory cells, which release various mediators that promote the growth of smooth muscle cells, tissue damage, and bronchial hyper-reactivity. The airways constrict and become congested with necrotized epithelial tissue, dead immune cells, mucous and plasma.

Rational targets in the treatment of asthma

Reducing the inflammation is paramount and the arachidonic acid-derived prostaglandins and leukotrienes are rational targets. Aspirin prevents the production of the pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and nitric oxide, decreasing vasodilation and inappropriate spasms in the airways. Avoiding polyunsaturated fatty acids and replacing them with saturated fatty acids will curtail leukotriene synthesis, histamine release and vascular leakiness.

Stimulants have an important place in the treatment of asthma. The stimulants found in coffee and tea have a relaxant effect on the bronchial smooth muscles and can help to dilate the constricted airways. PDE-4 is an enzyme that is implicated in inflammatory cells and the methylxanthines (caffeine in coffee and theophylline in tea) inhibit this enzyme and is therefore anti-inflammatory. Methylxanthines also stimulate the respiratory centers in the brain (this may be beneficial in asthmatics that exhibit reduced respiration and a tendency to retain carbon dioxide), is protective against allergic reactions and dampens oxidative damage.

Vitamin E is a "structural anti-oxidant" that prevents oxidation and stabilizes membrane structures. Vitamin D regulates T-cells and antigen-presenting cells that are implicated in the early phase of asthma.

Asthma has many parallels to other inflammatory processes, such as atherosclerosis and inflammatory bowel diseases and can serve as a model for understanding the inflammatory process. Efforts to correct one condition will likely have positive effects on the others.

Sources for this article include:

Rang and Dale's Pharmacology (7th edition)

Pharmacotherapy: A pathophysiological approach (7th edition)

Shiozaki T, Sugiyama K, Nakazato K, Takeo T. Effect of tea extracts, catechin and caffeine against type-I allergic reaction. Yakugaku Zasshi [Internet]. 1997 Jul;117(7):448-54.

Wang X, Quinn PJ. Vitamin E and its function in membranes. Prog Lipid Res [Internet]. 1999 Jul;38(4):309-36.


About the author:
Andrew Kim
[email protected]

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