Asthma, Methylation, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and Roundup

Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Asthma, Methylation, Leaky Gut Syndrome, and Roundup
Watching your child or your loved one struggle for breath from an asthma attack sends fear running down the spine. It may seem like an eternity before the breathing improves with “rescue medications”. Asthma is a chronic disease that affects 300 million people worldwide and causes 250,000 deaths each year. Preventing these attacks and reducing the severity is of utmost importance. Thankfully, there are nutritional tools available to help support these concerns and improve the health of the body. Researchers are finding that problems with methylation defects, increased intestinal permeability, food allergies and intolerances, environmental toxins, and even Roundup exposure underlie or worsen asthma disorders.

Asthma Disorders and Impaired Methylation

As researchers expand on the big picture of methylation defects and gene expression, they have found that asthma disorders are indeed linked with poor methylation status. Research published January 2016 shows that several immune genes were undermethylated, causing asthma. Methylation is a major process in the body. It happens in every cell and organ of the body more than a billion times per second. Methylation is the action of transferring a methyl group or carbon atom linked to three hydrogens from one molecule to another molecule.

Methylation is involved with the synthesis of DNA, detoxification, myelination (fatty sheath) around nerves, neurotransmitter synthesis and directly related with the master antioxidant glutathione. It is also involved with mitochondria function, and makes carnitine, phosphatidylcholine, melatonin, and coenzyme Q10 in the process. Under-methylation refers to insufficient methyl groups or donors needed for this process to occur. As a result, individuals overproduce and retain histamine. High histamine levels are related with allergies, asthma, and other problems like excess stomach acid and chronic runny nose.

Several nutrients are directly related to adequate methylation which ends up keeping histamine in check. Nutrients required for healthy methylation include methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin, which are the methylated forms of vitamin B12, methylated folate, vitamin B2, magnesium, zinc, choline, and MSM sulfur. One very significant consequence of this undermethylation is that coenzyme Q10 levels drop. Research has shown that a drop in Q10 levels creates a vicious cycle with allergic inflammation. Chronic allergies perpetuate coenzyme Q10 deficiency, which leads to continued problems with allergic inflammation and asthma. Nutrients that help make glutathione support the methylation process too.

Asthma, Lungs, and IL-13

Unimpaired methylation is essential for asthma prevention and management. New genome wide methylation research published just weeks ago has identified that methylation defects alter the immune inflammatory compound IL-13 (interleukin-13) which then turns on the genes associated with asthma. Researchers found that when this balance was disrupted, then inflammatory compounds and certain white blood cells flood the airway tissue creating broncho-constriction or asthma. Curcumin is one of the compounds known to alleviate hyper-reactivity and inflammation within the respiratory tissue by reducing IL-13 over-activity.

Asthma, Gut Health, and IL-13

Long before Leaky Gut Syndrome and increased intestinal permeability received mainstream discussion and acceptance, one lone research article from the 1976 Annals of Allergy discussed the link between digestive inflammation and intestinal lining breakdown linking it to the development of asthma. Fast forward 40 years and one will see numerous researching articles continuing to debate the link between asthma disorders and intestinal permeability. Recent research however confirms that there is a high prevalence of intestinal permeability with moderate to severe asthma. The linking component may be IL-13.

The inflammatory compound IL-13 is also found in the intestinal tract. Just like in the lungs, excess amounts of IL-13 cause inflammatory damage. When it is activated and over-abundant in the digestive tract, research shows inflammation occurs and leads to increased gut permeability or Leaky Gut Syndrome. Traditional medical management of asthma does not delve into gut health and intestinal permeability, but focuses only on the respiratory tract. If we are to win the battle against asthma, we must learn to also support health gut lining and reduce intestinal permeability by quenching IL-13 and supporting methylation.

Asthma Prevention and Probiotics

Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria, have been found to be helpful in the prevention of asthma related disorders. The World Allergy Organization (WAO) recently developed a guideline panel for allergy prevention and allergic inflammation. WAO recommended that probiotics be used in pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants/children who have a high risk of developing allergy.

Research also shows that animals treated with Lactobacillus had lower levels of IL-13 and was able to improve intestinal permeability thus reducing the risk and severity of asthma.

Exercise Induced Asthma and Wheat

Food allergies are another link to asthma. In fact, there is a type of asthma called wheat dependent exercise induced asthma. When susceptible individuals consume wheat and then 1-2 hours later engage in intense aerobic activity, they can develop “wheat dependent exercise induced asthma”. This reaction is so powerful in some individuals that it can actually trigger anaphylaxis or a severe allergic life-threatening response. Wheat/gluten exposure can cause immediate disruption in the gut barrier triggering inflammation and leaky gut syndrome. At the same time, intense physical activity can trigger leaky gut syndrome. It would appear in these individuals that the combination of wheat ingestion and significant physical activity provokes a burst of acute inflammation that starts with increased intestinal permeability and a flood of inflammatory chemicals like IL-13.

Researchers have been studying the prevalence of asthma in elite athletes and see a very high percentage of asthma problems. A 12-year survey in elite Olympic athletes found much higher problems with sensitivity to inhalant allergens in over 56 percent of the athletes and over 10 percent with asthma. The chronic, intense physical exercise caused such stress in the body that it causes the immune system to fatigue and shifted the body into a Th2 allergic inflammation inducing state.

Exercise is not the only trigger for asthma. Occupational exposure to wheat is a problem that can lead to baker’s asthma or baker’s rhinitis. While one may think of the bakery occupation, how about the teenager in their first job at the subway shop or someone on the line of a cereal factory to work their way through college with development or worsening of asthma.

Asthma, Round-up and IL-13

In the context of the Twenty-first Century challenges and rising levels of asthma, the question arises in my mind, where does glyphosate or Roundup fit in this picture? One 2014 study in the journal Toxicology sheds some insight. The scientists found for the first time that there is evidence that glyphosate-rich farm air samples and glyphosate alone induced IL-13 inflammation and Th2 inflammation. The study for the first time provided evidence of glyphosate causing occupational lung disease. There is only one other study reported on in 2013 that suggests certain pesticides like glyphosate can contribute to the exacerbation of asthma.

While science has yet to prove this, the pieces of the puzzle certainly make one think. It is my concern that problems with intestinal permeability, breakdown in the digestive lining and probiotics, depletion on nutrients, wheat allergy, celiac disease, and Roundup exposure are on the collision pathway causing the explosion of asthma related disorders. Are the athletes loading up on bagels or pastas prior to competitions made from wheat sprayed with glyphosate putting them at risk when they are under intense training and physical activity? Are they the canary in the coal mine? Certainly there are many other environmental factors and stressors that contribute to asthma, like animal dander, VOC’s and more and must be removed or appropriately dealt with. Work with your provider on identifying them.

Powerful Nutrients for Asthma

Fish oils play several roles in this picture of intestinal permeability, allergic inflammation and asthma. Researchers have described “supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids as an attractive non-pharmacological intervention which may benefit asthma.” Research published July 2015 in the Journal of Immunology found for the first time that the powerful gamma-tocotrienol form of vitamin E has tremendous protective actions of allergic asthma. Gamma-tocotrienol reduced allergic asthmatic inflammation in the lung tissue far greater than the standard vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) and the steroid prednisolone. Lack of Vitamin D has also been implicated in bronchial inflammation and asthma in children.

Be Proactive with Asthma

Whatever the cause for asthma with you or your loved one’s health, it is clear that prevention and reduction of inflammation are at the forefront of asthma support. Consider getting tested for methylation defects. This can be readily done through commercial gene testing or through a knowledgeable health care professional. If you have problems with methylation, a quality multiple vitamin that has the methylated forms of B vitamins is a great place to start. Consume sulfur rich foods, like onions, radishes, eggs, cruciferous vegetables, and even whey protein.

Make sure that vitamin D levels are optimal between 50 ng/ml and 80 ng/ml. If chronic allergies are present, chances are your coenzyme Q10 levels are not adequate. Quercetin and vitamin C are natural antihistamines and help to dampen allergic responses. We also saw that omega-3 fish oils (DHA and EPA), curcumin, and the super charged form of vitamin E (gamma-tocotrienol) provide protection against allergic inflammation. Several of these same nutrients support healthy gut lining and reduce intestinal permeability. Consider this along with having a diet rich in fermented foods and probiotics to bring healthy bacteria to the intestinal tract.

Chronic asthma is not just an isolated problem of the lungs; it is driven by numerous things throughout the body. Chronic illness and the fear that it brings does not have to consume every moment of the day. Knowing these underlying issues and addressing them helps you be proactive in the fight against asthma and help reduce its devastating consequences.

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