According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of Americans with asthma increased from 7.3% of the population in 2001 to 8.4% in 2010, and continues to rise. Several studies have indicated that changing diets are a factor in this increase a diet that includes fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed food. More research is required before we understand the connection between asthma and nutrition, but we already know that a good diet is an important part of an overall asthma treatment plan. Just like regular exercise, a healthy diet is good for everyone.

One recent study of asthma and diet showed that teens with poor nutrition were more likely to have asthma symptoms. Those who did not consume enough fruits and foods with vitamins C and E and omega-3 fatty acids were the most likely to have poor lung function. Another study from 2007 found that children who grew up eating a Mediterranean diet that was high in nuts and fruits like grapes, apples, and tomatoes were less likely to have asthma-like symptoms.

There are also nutrition-related symptoms that irritate and increase asthma symptoms:

  • People who are obese are likely to have more severe asthma symptoms, take more medication, and miss more work than people with asthma who maintain a normal weight.
  • Sulfites can emit sulfur dioxide which irritate the lungs and can trigger temporary asthma symptoms in some people with asthma.  While sulfites are no longer added to fresh fruits and vegetables in the United States, they are still used in many processed foods, dried fruits, canned vegetables, wine, and other processed foods.
  • Amazingly, up to 70% of all people with asthma also have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder (GERD). GERD can make asthma more difficult to control. (add link to October, 2010 blog)

As mentioned above, research is ongoing, but there are a few important nutrition tips to help you deal with asthma.

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They are an excellent source of antioxidants, the substances that boost your immune system, and may help increase lung function. Research published in European Respiratory Journal in 2005 found that low blood levels of antioxidants, such as carotene and vitamin C, are observed in patients with severe asthma.
  • Eat foods with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines and some plant sources, like flaxseed — are believed to have a number of health benefits. Although the evidence that they help with asthma is not clear, it’s still a good idea to include them in your diet.
  • Try the Mediterranean diet.  Research conducted in 2007 found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet, including the consumption of fruits and vegetables at least twice per day, guards against common symptoms of asthma, including wheezing and allergies.
  • If you are allergic to certain foods,  avoid them. Allergies can trigger asthma symptoms.

Asthma is a serious illness, good nutrition and a fitness regimen can help you control it’s effects on your life.  As always, speak to your health care provider before making any changes in your asthma treatment plan!