Asthmatic cycling in the Himalayas


It started with rare bouts of coughs and occasional wheezing sounds at the ripe old age of 35. I’d generally been a fit person who cared about his health and more importantly about his ability to play sports. I easily dismissed the coughs and wheezes and never thought these would take over my life one day not so far in the future.

It was summer of 2015 and we lived in Boston back then. Slowly the wheezes became more regular and so did the coughing. I had started to wake up feeling congested in the middle of the night (often around 3 AM) unable to breathe. It was scary. I saw the doc and was told I may have asthma and was sent back home with nebulizer treatment and was prescribed the Albuterol inhaler. I was very disappointed and the thought that just doing regular tasks could possibly become difficult for me, let alone playing sports, completely destroyed my confidence.

I didn’t want to be the guy who had to carry an inhaler to breathe. Months went by with coughing and the throat clearings and my frequency to doctors had increased significantly. In the fall of 2015 I ended up with low grade fever that went undiagnosed for almost a month and I didn’t know what was wrong. It turns out I had had pneomonia. Thankfully the antibiotics cleared it up but I had a miserable winter. Shoveling the snow in the winters was a nightmare and my energy started dropping. I wouldn’t even go out with my kids who wanted to build a snowman and slide down the hill on a sled. I felt awful.

Year 2016 didn’t go very well either. I had three visits to the Emergency Room when both my rescue inhaler (Albuterol) and corticosteroid (Advair) couldn’t help my breathing. I did several prednisone courses and got better, but it was always temporary. The bouts of cough and wheeze would come back within a month. I was in despair and didn’t like being on Advair, two puffs in the morning and two in the night. That had become my life.

I think I had googled every possible asthma related search tag and came across several promised solutions. I joined Facebook support groups. Some suggested holistic medicinal solution based on diet – paleo diet, vegan diet. Some suggested getting rid of fatty meals. While some suggested Asthma is mostly triggered by airborne allergens, others suggested its related to a leaky gut that makes your body mount an immune response to something very benign to a regular guy. Something such as milk or nuts.. I got my allergies tested and surprise surprise,┬áthe test gave me nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I realized that what works for one person may not necessarily work for another because the personal stories of people who had found solutions were so different from each other. I ended up reading quite a bit of peer reviewed medical journals as well and reached the same conclusion. There was no one root cause identified that seemed to apply to all.

I started keeping a record of my diet starting March 2017. And within a couple of months I started noticing a few things. My asthma attacks were different in severity depending on the food I ate. The reactions were also delayed at times to the food items and it was very hard to correlate whether the asthma attack was related to food. I even did a fasting experiment for 36 hours (I just drank water) and to my surprise the lungs felt quite airy after the fast. I started believing more that asthma is indeed the body’s inflammatory response to something in the food that it doesn’t like. My attacks were also very severe especially after eating mutton. So I became a vegetarian and then gave up dairy as well to remove all animal product from my diet.

It was something. I had started feeling a lot better and within about two months I had weaned off of my Advair. From 4 puffs a day to 2 puffs a day to 1 puff a day to none. That’s right none. I then decided to go on a cycling adventure in the himalayas in the summer of 2017 (after I had moved to India) going from Manali to Leh (about 500 km) riding through several mountain passes, the highest one at about 5300 m (18000 feet)! Check out the video below

I did take my advair puffs as precaution but I think I’d have done the whole 9 day trip without the inhaler. Fast forward to 2018, I’ve mostly been away from my inhaler but only when I haven’t been true to myself on the diet. At the time of writing this article I think meat and dairy are big triggers for me and as long as I stay away from these I continue to do fine without my inhaler. Couple of other things I do – I hardly consume any sugar and also I do not eat anything that comes packaged in plastic with preservatives.

I will continue to update how I do with my asthma and also my next adventures, you can follow my blog by subscribing. Should you have any questions or comments on asthma or cycling, or cycling with asthma please leave a comment below.

Next, I’m cycling from Bhalukpong to Bum La pass (at the Indo-China border) in September!