When I began making my transition into a plant-based diet, it was because of environmental concerns not because of health reasons. It was unexpected, but welcomed, when I felt my allergies become less sensitive and my asthma loosen. After speaking with my doctors, they had little to say other than "That's great, we've seen that before, but we don't know why."
I, like many others, don't know why my change in diet had a change in my asthma. Why is it, then, that some people report drastic improvements in their asthma after reducing the consumption of animal products? Is this a serendipitous placebo effect or a physiological change from diet change?
Vegetarian vs. vegan vs. veganism
Today, there are so many terms floating about, making diet trends somewhat esoteric and frustrating to follow. Here's a quick break down of the plant-based terms and what they mean.
- A vegetarian diet consists of fruits, veggies, seeds, grains, legumes, eggs and dairy products. When eating vegetarian, all meat and fish is avoided. This diet is very common and sometimes a liminal phase towards a vegan diet.
- A vegan diet is very similar to a vegetarian diet, however, all animal products are taken out of the diet. That means that no milk, eggs, gelatin or other animal products are consumed. It's all plants, all the time.
- Veganism is commonly associated with the vegan diet but is not a diet. Veganism is a belief system or a lifestyle in which animal products are avoided as clothes or utilities. This is a lifestyle that some people choose to adopt, but it's important to know that it is different from following a diet.
Plant-based health benefits and allergies
It has been shown in numerous studies that a well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet is rich in antioxidants and is typically higher in nutrient content. Many choose to use these diets to manage other chronic illnesses, as well as asthma, due to its common association with weight loss, improved organ function and inflammatory properties.
In a reviewed article on alternative asthma therapies it was noted that it's been promising for "...asthmatics to follow elimination diets (restricting major allergenic foods), minimal diets (allowing only a very small number of foods), vegan diets, or diets excluding putative triggers (such as dairy products)."1 Although there has been a noticeable trend, there has yet to be a conclusion on the causation of why these diets help. There certainly needs to be more research done before a plant-based diet is prescribed.
It should be noted that Kemper also refers to a diet that avoids allergens; allergies are a common trigger among asthmatics. In Sweden, there is a health movement towards radically altered diets, such as the vegan diet due to the aversion of allergens. Many claimed that this significantly improved their symptoms with Bronchial Asthma.2 Again, there has been research as to 'how' people are feeling with plant-based diets, but there has yet to be adequate 'why' studies to make a claim.
Considerations with asthma and changing your diet
Addressing diet is always important when dealing with a chronic illness. Unfortunately, it's been so recently observed that diet can affect our asthma, so there still needs to be some research done before a prescription for plants is common practice. Until the research, if done, it's always encouraged that you eat a well-balanced diet.
If you are interested in trying something like a plant-based diet for complementary management of your asthma, talk to your doctor about changing your diet before you do. Also, It can be difficult to make large changes in your diet or lifestyle. so, if you decide to change, try taking small steps and see how you feel. That way, you can better understand what foods being taken away or added have the most impact.
You can't know too much when it comes to managing your illness. Talk to others and talk to your doctor, and please share your own experiences if you'd like.
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