Asthma is an allergic lung disorder in which spasms and inflammation of the bronchial passages restrict the flow of air in and out of the lungs. An asthma attack usually starts with wheezing, coughing or shortness of breath. With asthma, the airways become over-sensitive and react to things that would normally not cause a problem, such as cold air or dust.
Muscles around the wall of the airway tighten up, making it narrow and difficult for the air to flow in and out. The lining of the airways gets swollen (just like your nose during a cold) and sticky mucus is produced, clogging up the breathing passages. With the airways narrowed like this, you can see why it becomes difficult for air to move in and out and why the chest has to work so much.
There are numerous potential triggers for asthma. Although food intolerances are not the main cause of asthma it may be an exacerbating factor and it is important to identify food allergens. Common food intolerances include dairy products, yeast, sugar, wheat, food additives and salicylates (present in many fruits herbs, spices and vegetables).
Inhaled allergens such as dust mite, moulds, pet hair, cigarette smoke, grass, traffic fumes and other chemicals can also be a trigger for an asthma attack, and some asthma sufferers find it difficult with changes in weather conditions particularly cold air. Emotional stress, exercise and nutrient deficiencies can also cause an attack.
DIETARY CHANGES CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Studies show that children and teenagers who eat diets high in fruits and omega-3 fatty acids generally have strong lungs and few asthma-like symptoms. Conversely, people who have low amounts of nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E and omega-3s have high rates of poor lung function. The Mediterranean diet promotes fruits, vegetables and nuts. These foods are high in antioxidants and vitamins.
- Dairy products can increase mucus production and is therefore best avoided. Animal protein produces inflammatory arachidonic acid which can contribute to the allergic and inflammatory reaction found in asthma.
- Oily fish, nuts and seeds and cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil can help to naturally reduce inflammation in the airways.
- Apples, carrots, leafy vegetables and tomatoes have all demonstrated beneficial effects for preventing asthma in studies.
- A high salt intake may have an adverse effect on asthma particularly in men. In a small preliminary trial, doubling salt intake for one month led to a small increase in airway reactivity (indicating a worsening of the condition).
- Intake of fruit and vegetables should be increased particularly those highest in Vitamin C (red and green peppers, blackcurrants, berries, leafy greens and broccoli). Citrus fruits can be problematic for some asthma sufferers.
Garlic and onions contain flavonoids that inhibit the inflammatory response.
- Magnesium – Magnesium levels are frequently low in asthmatics and magnesium is a natural muscle relaxant found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. In a preliminary trial 18 adults with asthma took 300mg magnesium daily for 30 days and experienced decreased bronchial reactivity.
- Vitamin C Vitamin C given as 2000mg per day has been found to reduce the tendency of the bronchial passages to go into spasm. It can also help to prevent exercise-induced asthma.
- Quercetin – Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant which works alongside Vitamin C. It inhibits the release of histamine and IgE inflammatory mediators from mast cells in lung tissue.
- Fish Oils – Fish oils contain the essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) whih have anti-inflammatory properties. There is evidence that children who eat oily fish have a much lower risk of getting asthma and children who were given 300mg per day of fish oil experienced significant improvement in symptoms.
Note: It is advisable to consult a nutritional therapist before embarking on a nutrition and supplement programme.