Michael J. McFadden suggests that some asthmatics’ symptoms may be “all in the head”

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A recent mogasp blog – 2011-11-28 Patch: “St. Charles County Council to Consider Smoking Ban Monday Night Smoke-free bills appear deadlocked at 3-3 ..” elicited a fair number of comments, leading eventually to a smoke-free air opponent, Michael McFadden, questioning whether complaints from smoke-sensitive asthmatics about SHS weren’t at least in part psycological, i.e. not really a medical problem at all.

In support of this contention Mr. McFadden provided references to a number of peer-reviewed papers published in the 1970s, as well as direct quotes.

It’s an interesting argument having some potential legitimacy. The question is, does it amount to enough of an argument to negate the efforts of asthmatics or others with medical conditions who claim that exposure to SHS is highly detrimental to their health, and can trigger an asthma attack, for example.

Following is Mr. McFadden’s argument. It will be interesting to see if others can provide scientific evidence to counter it.

Michael McFadden, author of Dissecting Antismokers' Brains

Michael J. McFadden
Submitted on 2011/12/15 at 1:55 am

Quoted elsewhere by “Walt”


“Luparello et al(1968) measured changes in airway resistance directly by body plethysmography. They showed that asthmatic subjects reacted with increased airway resistance when given nebulized saline to inhale and told it was the allergen … associated with his attacks. 19 of 40 asthmatics showed a significant increase in airway resistance and 12 developed attacks of bronchial spasm which were reversed with an inhaled saline placebo. … In another study, isoprenaline and carbachol were each presented to 20 asthmatic subjects by inhalation. Each drug was presented twice under double-blind conditions. [First] the subject was told that it was a bronchodilator that would open his airways and make it easier to breathe and in the other, he was told it was a bronchoconstrictor. The suggestion produced significant changes in response to the drugs in the direction that had been suggested.”

This leads the author (Cohen) to opine about studies on the subject of conditioning that showed that hay fever sufferers who knew a particular flower caused attacks could get an attack by merely being shown a paper imitation of that flower. Citing Vaughn, 1939 and an 1886 (not a typo) study by MacKenzie.

Per “Anxiety Reduction in Asthma” Kinsman et al, Psychcosom Res, 1980


Luparello’s findings were repeated by:

Spector et al “Response of asthmatics to methacholine and suggestion,” Am Rev Resp Dis, 113; 1976

Strupp et al, “Effects of suggestion on total respiratory resistance in mild asthmatics,” Psychosom Res, 18; 1974

Phillipp et al “Suggestion and relaxation in asthmatics,” Psychosom Res 16; 1972

(Above offered in support of my contention that the anxiety/stress/fear brought on by the antismoking movement may actually cause MORE attacks today than smoke.)

mogasp comment: Your thesis may or may not have validity. You are quoting research dating to the 1970s and I don’t know if those conclusions are still current.
The paper you reference in your initial comment actually opens with a quote from Moses Maimonides (1135-1204)! That could mean that little has changed in the understanding of this disease or that it is complex and our knowledge has improved. It may well be that in some cases psychological factors play a role, but I don’t view the evidence you present as a valid response to efforts to provide smoke-free air.
I know several very smoke-sensitive asthmatics and also a person who is a former smoker, now a laryngectomy survivor, and I don’t view any of them as having been influenced by “the antismoking movement.” On the contrary, they have become active in promoting smoke-free air as a result of the effect of SHS on their health and welfare.

3 responses to “Michael J. McFadden suggests that some asthmatics’ symptoms may be “all in the head”

  1. This is like saying that Pavlov’s dog salivating was psychosomatic because there wasn’t any food there. After responding to certain stimuli that actually exist, we will continue to produce those chemical changes in our body when we believe that the stimuli exists, whether it does or not. In the end, it is all in the mind… what we believe is real and what is not.

  2. MoGasp, thank you for offering my comment for further consideration. One thing I should note is that at its start I said “Quoted elsewhere by ‘Walt’.” While I know and trust Walt’s judgment and research, I must confess I have not checked all the material myself so can not claim that I can support all of it.

    My general thoughts in the area come not so much from this sort of research as from two experiential bases:

    1)I know my own past psychogenic reaction to the smell of gasoline when I was a “flamin’ radical anti-car activist.” And I know how that reaction dissipated as I began to move more toward the belief that we should not push our values onto others: None of us can claim godhood.


    2) In the 1960s/70s severe reactions to the VERY intense smoke levels then existing were almost unknown. There are also virtually no references in mainstream literature to such reactions, which there should have been if such were common.

    Thanks again: I hope we get some good information here.

    – MJM

  3. Vivian Dietemann

    I suspect that many who experienced severe reactions might have been delegated to insane assylums. Doctors bury their mistakes. Severe reactions often times are not tested as a form of porphyria. There are 8 different porphyrians but last I heard there were only tests for 5 of them.

    I actually became aware of Missouri GASP after I started having severe reactions and most of the people I am aware of who developed severe reactions did not know anyone else who had severe reactions and felt isolated and alone before finding others like them.

    You don’t know what you don’t know!

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