Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that what we eat can directly impact the severity and even very existence of a health condition or disease. Asthma is undoubtedly one of those conditions, and unless you suffer from a specific allergic reaction to certain types of foods, diet is usually the last thing asthma sufferers think about.
But here’s a little food for thought: what you put in your mouth plays a large role in your health. A healthier body is more resilient, suffers from less inflammation and is less likely to experience adverse reactions to the range of environmental triggers that are known causes of asthma. This means that the foods you choose to eat can either help or hinder in the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms.
So why wouldn’t you want to know about all the foods that can improve your asthma?
What is asthma and what causes it?
Simply put, asthma is a condition in which the respiratory passages of the lungs (bronchioles) suffer from chronic inflammation. Certain triggers, which vary from person to person, cause the bronchioles to swell and fill with mucus. At the same time, muscles within these passages contract, causing further restriction of breathing.
In light of the mechanisms behind asthma attacks, the typical symptoms are what you might expect: breathlessness, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty speaking. An asthma attack can come on very suddenly, or build slowly over the course of hours or days.
While the exact causes behind asthma are not well known, the typical triggers that can set off an asthma attack are. In the vast majority of cases, asthma is triggered by an allergic reaction to a foreign body, such as:
- Polluted air
- Cigarette or wood smoke
- Perfumes and cleaning products
- Cold or dry weather
Other potential asthma triggers include colds, flu, sinusitis, stress and intense exercise.
Foods to eat if you have asthma
Your first line of defense against asthma is always going to be a diet that supports a healthy body. In 2004, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published a comprehensive review that examined the known links between food nutrients and asthma. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that the best way to get the nutrients required for alleviating asthma is to “supplement the diet with foods that provide the best combination of nutrients, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.”
The message is clear: the more nutrient-dense, fresh foods you can get your mitts on, the better. A diet rich in varied vegetables and fruits (in that order), along with plenty of organic, pastured meats and healthy fats is sure to send your asthma running for the hills… or at least walking.
But while a diet rich in fresh produce and high-quality meats is a good start, there are certain foods that have been scientifically proven to directly improve asthma symptoms. Here are some of them.
1. Fatty fish
It seems that the health experts simply can’t get enough of the beneficial omega-3s and other fatty acids found in fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel. And when it comes to improving asthma symptoms, there’s virtually no better food to eat.
In 1996, a study examining associations between diet and asthma prevalence in 574 children found that those who ate fresh, oily fish (like salmon or mackerel) had a significantly reduced risk of asthma. A similar study published in 2009 examined the link between omega-3 intake and asthma prevalence in 2602 Australian children, once again finding increasing foods and supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids helped to protect children against symptoms of asthma.
And it makes sense, when you think about it. Asthma is an inflammatory condition, and the foods rich in omega-3s, such as fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds, have been directly linked to lowered inflammation. Less inflammation means lower severity of asthma symptoms, and fewer attacks.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most important antioxidants in the human body, and yet most of us are deficient in it. And people who are deficient in vitamin D have been shown to have a greater risk of asthma.
A 2010 study showed that in asthmatics, reduced vitamin D levels are associated with impaired lung functions and greater severity of symptoms than those who get their recommended daily intake of vitamin D. Another study published in the same year found that asthmatic children were more likely to suffer from lung and respiratory complications when they had lower serum vitamin D levels. There’s plenty more research where that came from, but suffice to say that if you’re an asthmatic, you definitely don’t want to go light on the vitamin D!
Obviously, your best source of vitamin D3 is always going to be sunshine! But if there isn’t much of that in your neck of the woods right now, foods like mackerel and salmon (again), beef liver, cheese and egg yolks are all high in vitamin D.
A study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that asthmatic women who consumed higher levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant found in great abundance in carrots, had a better quality of life. Another study found that low serum levels of beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A), were associated with not only a higher prevalence of asthmatics, but also a greater severity of asthma symptoms. Other foods rich in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, leafy greens, broccoli and spinach.
You’ve heard about how bananas are a great source of potassium, but did you ever stop to think that they might actually help to improve your asthma symptoms? A 2007 study published in the European Respiratory Journal showed that eating bananas may help to reduce wheezing in asthmatic children. This connection is verified by another study which showed that lower potassium intake is associated with impaired lung function in children.
While bananas are an excellent source of potassium, there are plenty of other foods you can turn to for your daily dose of K. Other great sources of potassium include avocados, acorn squash, spinach, sweet potato and wild-caught salmon (notice a trend here?). Interestingly, kiwis contain the almost same amount of potassium as bananas, so don’t be afraid to mix it up!
— Liivi Hess