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How Diet Can Affect Asthma

The World Health Organization has identified nutrition and exercise as key variables in the development of many chronic illnesses. Some of these illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and various forms of cancer are more commonly associated with nutrition, however, even conditions like asthma are affected by what we consume. Our diets can affect asthma drastically through food allergies and through the consumption of foods with inflammatory properties.

Food allergies

A clear way that diet and asthma can be tied are food allergies. A food allergy may dictate certain aspects of your diet or a change in diet may uncover a food allergy, both can cause problems. As asthmatics, we know that allergies can become a serious complication. From animal and environmental allergies, the symptoms experienced can be triggering to our asthma; allergies to food are no different. In some cases, food allergies can cause ‘anaphylaxis’, a severe airway constriction that further exacerbates any asthma condition.

Inflammatory foods

The consumption of inflammatory foods might not be as evident as food allergies when regarding the connection between diet and asthma. That being said, the foods you’re eating might be exacerbating your asthma more than you’d think. The common “western diet” consists of lots of sugars, saturated fats, and alcohol (for those of age). As a result, there’s a higher prevalence of chronic illness in western culture, commonly associated with inflammation caused by our diet.

Asthma is defined as the chronic inflammation of pathways in the lungs. It is believed that fatty acids are correlated with the development of inflammation in the pathophysiology of asthma, however, as of recent years, dietary intervention as a method of controlling asthma has been less effective than predicted.3  Asthma is a very dynamic condition, it changes drastically in triggers and severity from person to person; the way a person feels as a result of their asthma is also subjective. So, it can be difficult to accumulate the empirical data needed to make claims about the association between.

Things to keep in mind

Until research uncovers definite connections between diet and asthma, there are some things that can help keep you food-flare free. The Mayo Clinic has published some guidelines to help2:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity has been linked to increased inflammation throughout the body, including the lungs.
  • Antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E, have been shown to reduce free radicals in the body that cause inflammation. It’s good to eat lots of fruits and veggies that are rich in these nutrients.
  • Know what your food allergies are. Having asthma puts you at an increased risk of having food allergies. It’s best to identify these potential allergies or be tested by a doctor.
  • Severe cases of asthma have been linked to vitamin D deficiency. It’s recommended that you have a steady intake of vitamin D, which can be acquired through many plant-based and animal-based sources. Also, the sunlight is a great source of vitamin D.
  • Sulfites are a known trigger for many asthmatics. They are commonly found as a food preservative in shrimp, dried fruits, wine, and other fermentations. It’s best to know what’s in your food to avoid this potential trigger.2

Most asthmatics will say that some type of food or spice influences their breathing. Right now, research has shown some correlations between different nutrients and inflammation in the lungs, however, there is more research to be done before dietary management is recommended by our doctors. It’s best to be mindful about how your lungs feel after a meal. Do your best to identify what foods affect your asthma. Let us know what you feel and what influences your asthma; for better or worse.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. - Allan, K., & Devereux, G. (2011). Diet and Asthma: Nutrition Implications from Prevention to Treatment. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(2), 258-268. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.048
  2. James T C Li, M.D. “Asthma Diet: Does What You Eat Make a Difference?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2 June 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/expert-answers/asthma-diet/faq-20058105.
  3. Wendell, S. G., Dr. (2014). Fatty acids, inflammation, and asthma. Asthma Institute, UPMC, Department of Medicine, 133(5), 1255-1264. Retrieved February 3, 2019.

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