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Plant Based Asthma

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 it’s 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.

Take Away

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.

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. Kemper, K and Lester, M. (1999) Alternative asthma therapies: an evidence based review. Contemp Pediatr. 1999; 16: 162–195 [Accessed 2 Mar. 2019].
  2. Lindahl, O. (2009). Vegan Regimen with Reduced Medication in the Treatment of Bronchial Asthma. [online] Taylor & Francis. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/02770908509079883 [Accessed 2 Mar. 2019].

Comments

  • Weezer
    6 months ago

    @samueltaylor that is actually really interesting. It’s a great article as it’s very thought provoking i was diagnosed with a nut allergy and my all year round rhinitis stopped. I often wonder if there is anything else triggering my asthma but I think the thought of more foods being eliminated worries me.

  • SamuelTaylor moderator author
    6 months ago

    I understand that, Weezer. The thought of not eating the same things that you like can prevent you from making changes. Especially if you’ve already made sacrifices. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article. I wish you the best with your food and your lungs. Please feel free to reach out if you ever have questions!

    -Samuel, Asthma.net team

  • Shellzoo
    6 months ago

    I don’t think I would completely give up meat but I do try to have meatless days and am trying to increase the vegetables in my diet. The year I joined a CSA and had organic vegetables delivered each week, I had many meatless days. I also learned new ways to eat vegetables especially cabbage which was a bumper crop that year. Now I frequent farmers markets and roadside stands but if the right CSA were available I would join one again.

  • SamuelTaylor moderator author
    6 months ago

    That’s awesome, Shellzoo!

    CSA’s are becoming more popular and are a fantastic way to directly support the local farming community. That being said, so are farmers markets! I am also a frequent farmers market patron, with my girlfriend.

    We love cabbage, especially making sauerkraut; it’s great for you and when you make it yourself you get the benefit of local biodiverse fermentation.

    It’s great to hear that you’re upping your plant intake! Have you noticed a change in your asthma symptoms at all? We appreciate your input, as always!

    -Samuel, Asthma.net team

  • Weezer
    6 months ago

    @shellzoo I agree with you. I think meatless would take out al lot of essential nutrients and that’s a big risk. Also plant based is also a risk having pollen foods or high histamine foods.

  • SamuelTaylor moderator author
    6 months ago

    Hi Weezer, we appreciate your input and your concerns!

    You’re right, an unbalanced diet will lack essential nutrients; weather it is plant-based or meat-inclusive. However, a well balanced plant-based diet is actually more nutrient-dense compared to a meat-inclusive diet (calorie to nutrient density). Weather you are eating meat or not, the inclusion of plants in your diet is essential to a well balanced diet.

    I have been entirely plant-based for 5 years now and have had no nutrient deficiencies at all, and my blood work has come back better than before I made the change (I test once a year). That being said, since my switch, I have become a lot more attentive to the nutrients in my food and have cut out all processed foods and added sugars.

    Interestingly, I had a terrible pollen allergy and was on anti-histamines constantly as a kid. When I made the transition my allergies disappeared and I haven’t taken an anti-histamine since. I’m sure I can’t say that is causation, but it is an interesting change in my physiology.

    I would certainly talk to your doctor before making any radical changes to your diet if your asthma is linked to diet. I wish you the best and hope that you are feeling well!

    -Samuel, Asthma.net Team

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