Asthma is a disease characterized by airways that are overreactive. People who have this common disease experience shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough in response to stimuli that cause the bronchial tubes and small airways to clamp down. Although food allergies can cause some of the same symptoms as asthma, it’s uncommon for a particular food to bring on an asthmatic attack unless a person is allergic to that food. On the other hand, there is some evidence that how you eat can reduce the frequency of asthma attacks. Need some guidance? Here’s how to eat if you have asthma.
How does diet help in controlling the symptoms of asthma? Diet may be important for relieving asthma symptoms because certain foods reduce inflammation. Asthma is a disease characterized not only by spastic airways, but also by inflammation which leads to excess mucous production and blocked airways. When airways are inflamed, they’re more likely to clamp down and lead to the uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms of asthma.
If you have asthma, how should you eat to minimize the symptoms? It’s unlikely that diet alone will be enough to cure your asthma, but eating a healthy diet may reduce the frequency of attacks and make them less severe by reducing the inflammatory response. The first step is to eliminate as many processed foods from your diet as you can and replace them with fresh fruits and vegetables. Many processed foods are high in sugar and saturated fats which can trigger inflammation. Sulfites are also commonly found in processed and canned foods which can trigger asthma symptoms in some people. Fruits and vegetables have high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals which have a positive effect on the immune system and subdue the inflammatory response.
If you have asthma, consider adding more fish to your diet. The omega-3’s found in fatty fish such as salmon have documented anti-inflammatory effects. One study in children found that those who took fish oil supplements experienced improvement in their asthma symptoms. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that omega-3’s contain a chemical called Resolvin E1 that helps to reduce airway inflammation and may account for the benefits of omega-3’s when it comes to asthma. Choose fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon; but don’t overdo it since some fish are high in mercury and PCB’s.
To find out whether particular foods trigger your asthma symptoms, try keeping a food diary for several weeks – making note of everything you eat along with your asthma symptoms. After several weeks you should start to see a pattern and whether certain foods are contributing to your asthma attacks. Try eliminating suspected food triggers and see if this reduces asthmatic symptoms.
Finally, if you have asthma, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels have been linked with more severe episodes of asthma. Although the sun is the best source of this important vitamin, fatty fish and fortified cereals and milk contain some vitamin D. Consider having your vitamin D level tested and ask your doctor about supplements if it’s low.