Asthma is a common and chronic condition affecting over 25 million in the United States alone.1 The condition is characterized by narrowed airways in the lungs in which the small muscles of the lungs contract and also possible inflammation to potential triggers.2 Triggers could be environmental allergens, cigarette smoke, molds, animal dander, chemicals or dust.2,3
Symptoms of asthma could include wheezing, non-productive cough, tightness and a feeling of breathlessness, sometimes acutely so during an “asthma attack”.1 While some individuals experience only mild effects, symptoms can be experienced by some as severe, interfering with daily activity and even life threatening episodes.2
Research into the condition identifies an immunological foundation in which chronic inflammation, possibly due to the triggers listed above, instigates action of the mast cells, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and T helper cells(Th2). The release of this Th2 response induces both a release of IgE antibodies and a “rebuilding” mechanism in the airways, culminating in the onslaught of clinical asthma symptoms.1
While acute treatment is necessary during the attack, resolution to prevent and control the factors causing inflammation is necessary for long term treatment.2 This may include identifying potential food triggers as well as minimizing exposures to dust and insects, washing sheets and toys weekly, eliminating exposure to smoke, changing bedding and removing pets.1
Interestingly, foods that influence the gut microbiome like saturated fats and fiber can influence an individual’s allergic sensitivity as excess or lack of said foods could alter the variety of helpful species present in the gut and breed more potentially harmful varieties like C difficile.1,4 One study of 957 infants identified that infants with colonies of Clostridium difficile were associated with a greater prevalence of recurring wheeze and allergic sensitization.4
What has been studied with some efficacy and validity is the effects of dietary fats on lung function.1 These studies prove a positive correlation in those with a higher dietary intake of omega 6 fatty acids and prevalence of asthmatic symptoms, whereas those with a higher intake of omega 3 fatty acids to have a lower association. It is by now well known the role fatty acids have on inflammatory mediators.5 Fatty acid changes in the diet have the potential to downplay these inflammatory response mechanisms.5
Therefore, a Mediterranean type diet is a reasonable dietary option as it recommends a high consumption of olive oil and fatty fish as a mainstay of the diet.1
The diet purports a foundation of fruits and vegetables, and whole grains against a backdrop of these high omega 3 fatty acid foods with lowered meat consumption overall. The beneficial effects may also be partially due to fruits and vegetables being rich in antioxidants which have the potential effects of a reduction in inflammation.1 As asthma is an inflammatory disease, the benefits of the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet interestingly is not only preventative, but also viable as treatment.6 A 12 week study of 38 adults with symptomatic asthma, all who adopted the Mediterranean diet showed dietary change to be statistically significant, concluding that treatment using the diet is feasible and warrants further study in larger groups.6
Prednisone is a common anti inflammatory medication given for asthmatics. Calcium, magnesium, chromium, potassium and vitamin D are common nutrient depletions for this given medication,7 so a diet rich in these nutrients, like the Mediterranean diet is a consideration to avoid nutrient depletion.
Considering the potential side effects and nutrient depletions of medications, looking to utilize as foods as medicine is reasonable. For example, a 2013 study of patients with asthma ingesting 5 or more servings per week of raw vegetables demonstrated a positive correlation between the produce intake and less asthmatic symptoms8. In another study, a greater than 46.3 grams per day of citrus fruit was associated with reduced symptoms after daily consumption.8
One downfall to the Mediterranean diet is sourcing quality fish, void of mercury and heavy metals from farmed varieties. An avenue around this potential poor health inducing problem is by ordering to be shipped through a reputable source on a monthly subscription service like a company called Wild Alaskan.
Selenium is a potent antioxidant nutrient known to be useful in inflammatory conditions and as it may be protective against oxidative stress, it may be a useful supplement to consider. Studies have shown that elevated selenium intake is associated with a lower prevalence of asthma. In fact, selenium intake at a suggested dose of 100-200mg per day was shown to decrease asthma symptoms by 10-20% in 4-16 year olds. 9 Symptoms of toxicity have appeared at the usage of greater than 400mg/daily and include nausea, vomiting and stomach upset, irritability and weight loss.1
Boswellia serrata is a botanical known to be traditionally useful in inflammatory disorders including asthma. It is believed that boswellic acid deters the formation of leukotriene and may be the mechanism for it’s anti inflammatory action.1 A study utilizing Boswellia in adults showed 70% had fewer asthma attacks and improved lung function overall after taking 300mg three times daily for 6 weeks.10 Few incidences have been reported of negative side effects other than the potential for GI effects like heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea.1
Professionals To Add To Your Team
Photo credit: rawpixel.com
Who wouldn’t love a reason to add a massage therapist to their team? While massage has been around since ancient times, it took a backseat when pharmaceuticals became of greater use in 1950.1 However, an improvement in lung function was reported for asthmatics who engaged in massage therapy.1 A recent study of 60 children with asthma were given massage for 20 minutes before bed for 5 weeks. After the study, the massage group showed greater improvements in lung capacity over the control groups and many of the parents continued giving their children massage.11
Considering the vast amount of research out there concerning the pathophysiology and potential treatments for asthma, the best advice might be to simply acknowledge that perhaps what you have can be positively influenced by therapeutic choices, and that perhaps with the right combination of diet, exercise, technique and supplement, you too might breathe the sweet sighs of relief.
- Rakel D. Integrative Medicine. In: Integrative Medicine. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2018:320-333.
- Center for Health Statistics N. Vital and Health Statistics, Series 3, Number 35, (11/2012). Published online 2001.
- Ross K. Asthma. Presented as part of a Masters in Clinical Nutrition, SCNM, Tempe, AZ. Accessed 1-23-22.
- Penders J, Thijs C, Van Den Brandt PA, et al. Gut microbiota composition and development of atopic manifestations in infancy: the KOALA Birth Cohort Study. Gut. 2007;56(5):661-667. doi:10.1136/GUT.2006.100164
- Wendell SG, Baffi C, Holguin F. Fatty acids, inflammation, and asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2014;133(5):1255-1264. doi:10.1016/J.JACI.2013.12.1087
- Sexton P, Black P, Metcalf P, et al. Influence of mediterranean diet on asthma symptoms, lung function, and systemic inflammation: a randomized controlled trial. J Asthma. 2013;50(1):75-81. doi:10.3109/02770903.2012.740120
- Database NM. Prednisone. Published 2022. Accessed January 23, 2022. https://naturalmedicines-therapeuticresearch-com.scnmlib.idm.oclc.org/
- Alwarith J, Kahleova H, Crosby L, et al. The role of nutrition in asthma prevention and treatment. Nutr Rev. 2020;78(11):928. doi:10.1093/NUTRIT/NUAA005
- Rubin RN, Navon L, Cassano PA. Relationship of serum antioxidants to asthma prevalence in youth. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2004;169(3):393-398. doi:10.1164/RCCM.200301-055OC
- Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A, et al. Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study. Eur J Med Res. 1998;3(11):511-514. Accessed January 23, 2022. https://europepmc.org/article/MED/9810030
- Fattah MA, Hamdy B. Pulmonary functions of children with asthma improve following massage therapy. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(11):1065-1068. doi:10.1089/ACM.2010.0758