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Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

Surprising Triggers and Treatments for Childhood Asthma: An Integrative Medicine Approach with Dr. Joseph T. Malak of Bambini Pediatrics

Jul 28, 2014 06:17PM ● By Joseph T. Malak, MD


Asthma is one of the most common childhood illnesses of the 21st century, affecting some 8 percent of light-skinned children and 12 percent of dark-skinned children, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Every year, asthma leads to more than 750,000 pediatric ER visits—and although the admission rate is falling, asthma remains the third leading cause of hospitalization in children (behind mood disorder and pneumonia).

A few years back, one of our patients—a little fellow I’ll call Tyrone—was admitted to a local hospital some 40 times between the ages of 2 and 10. He kept us busy! Things are different these days, however. In our office, we just don’t see that kind of volume and severity of asthma cases anymore. What’s different?

What We Add In

It’s not because the FDA has approved a broad new array of safe, highly effective drugs.  In fact, prescription options really haven’t changed much.

What’s different in 2014 is that we encourage most of our patients to supplement with vitamin D—especially those with asthma, eczema or allergies. When dark-skinned children who haven’t been on vitamin D come into our office wheezing, we offer their parents the option of giving them a hefty dose of vitamin D rather than the traditional steroid shot. In our experience, the vitamin D bolus works just as well without making the kids hyper.

Another nutrient that has helped dramatically reduce asthma troubles in our practice is cod liver oil. It’s not the tastiest or most affordable supplement on the planet, but it’s certainly a potent way to reduce inflammation, with happy side effects like improved attention span, stronger teeth and clearer skin. If the kids balk at sight of the bottle, we have parents apply it topically.

Depending on circumstances, we may recommend a host of other adjuncts, including magnesium supplements, multi-strain probiotics, digestive enzymes, essential oils such as eucalyptus or thyme, and herbs like turmeric and boswellia. And as severity and parent interest indicate, we make referrals to other natural health specialists, especially chiropractors and homeopaths.

What We Avoid

When did the asthma epidemic begin? It was back in the mid-80s. What else changed back then?  That was when doctors picked up on the association between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome, and acetaminophen became widely used for fevers, teething and other childhood discomforts.

Finally, about three years ago, Dr. John McBride of Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio published a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics linking asthma and repeated doses of acetaminophen. The study reinforced some doctors’ long-held concerns about using acetaminophen to treat colds and fever in asthmatic children. We have strongly discouraged its use in our practice ever since.

Other triggers we encourage families to steer their wheezing children away from include cow’s milk and, more recently, gluten; processed foods (e.g., doughnuts), which promote inflammation; and excessive skin sanitizers (it’s been our experience that kids who grow up on farms rarely if ever develop asthma). Dust mites, mold and excessive cat dander may also need to be nixed.

Current Experience

Today, Tyrone is a teenager. In the last four years, he has not been admitted to the hospital a single time. He still uses inhalers and nebulizers a bit—so we’re not finished—but he has come a long way. 

Moreover, we can’t even recall the last time we had to hospitalize a school-age child due to an asthma attack. Now, we still see a fair number of infants and toddlers who end up in the ER or hospital due to bronchiolitis (virus-induced wheezing), so there is still some work to do, but we are very happy with the lower hospital census. And we’ve been delighted to help several children who’ve come to us after taking inhaled steroids and related medications for years break free from the prescription drugs.

Dr. Joseph T. Malak is the founder of Bambini Pediatrics, an integrative medical practice for children, located at 207 Washington St., Ste. 103, Poughkeepsie, NY. For more info, call 845.249.2510 or visit (For more info on natural approaches to asthma, as well as other childhood illnesses, click on “Resources” on the home page and then “Common Concerns” from the drop-down menu.)