Category Archives: asthma

Ginger may benefit asthma sufferers

Asthma sufferers may benefit from the addition of ginger to their usual medications, a new study suggests.

Asthma is a condition that affects the bronchial tubes which carry air to and from the lungs. In asthma sufferers, the bronchial tubes can become irritated and begin to constrict, making it difficult to breathe. Asthma triggers (such as environmental pollutants) can also create inflammation, causing a build up of mucous in the bronchial tubes. The numbers of asthma sufferers in the UK appears to be on the increase, and worryingly the UK has the highest prevalence of childhood asthma worldwide.

Despite the growing number of asthma sufferers in the UK, there have been few new treatment agents approved for asthma symptoms. Normally, medicines called beta-agonists are used, which work by relaxing the airways, opening them up and helping patients to breathe. In the recent study, however, scientists from Columba University found that certain compounds in ginger help to relax muscle in the airways, increasing the effectiveness of these prescribed medications.

The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base, and indeed dietary factors could explain the rising incidence of asthma in the UK. Previous population studies have suggested beneficial effects linked with fresh fruit and vegetables (2), oily fish (3) and full fat dairy products (4). Foods such as margarine and salt, on the other hand, have been linked with an increased risk of asthma and allergy (5-6). Alongside prescribed medications, it would certainly seem sensible for asthma sufferers to consider an anti-inflammatory diet as a supportive health measure.

There is a direct link between ginger and asthma
The link between diet and asthma has a solid evidence base

This particular study, conducted by researchers at Columbia University, tested the effects of ginger on human tissue samples from the airways. The researchers caused the tissue samples to constrict by exposing them to acetylcholine, a compound known to cause constriction in the airways. They then tested the effects of asthma medication isoproterenol alone, and then together with three components of ginger – 6-gingerol, 8-ginerol and 6-shogoal. The tissue responses were then recorded and compared.

The results showed that combining ginger with the isoproterenol rendered the treatment significantly more effective than using isoproterenol alone. Lead author Elizabeth Townsend, PhD, concluded that the ginger compounds “act synergistically with the beta-agonist in relaxing (the airways), indicating that these compounds may provide additional relief of asthma symptoms when used in combination with beta-agonists.”

Although this study shows promise, it is likely to be some time before ginger is approved as an agent in the treatment of asthma. Nevertheless, ginger is a great addition to the diet, and is often used for nausea and digestive support, as well as its anti-inflammatory benefits. Incorporating ginger tea is an easy way of adding this spice into your daily diet. Fresh ginger root works well in stir-fries and vegetable soups. It also freezes well for later use – simply store it in the freezer and grate it from frozen.


1. Townsend AE et al (2013) Active Constituents Of Ginger Potentiate β-Agonist-Induced Relaxation Of Airway Smooth Muscle. ATS International Conference. May 2013.

2. Farchi S, Forastiere F, Agabiti N. et al Dietary factors associated with wheezing and allergic rhinitis in children. Eur Respir J 2003. 22772–780.780

3. Hodge L, Salome C, Peat J. et al Consumption of oily fish and childhood asthma risk. Med J Aust 1996. 164137–140.140

4. Wijga A H, Smit H A, Kerkhof M. et al Association of consumption of products containing milk fat with reduced asthma risk in pre‐school children: the PIAMA birth cohort study. Thorax 2003. 58567–572.572.

5. Bolte G, Frye C, Hoelscher B. et al Margarine consumption and allergy in children. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2001. 163277–279.279.

6. Pistelli R, Forastiere F, Corbo G. et al Respiratory symptoms and bronchial responsiveness are related to dietary salt intake and urinary potassium excretion in male children. Eur Respir J 1993. 6517–522.522.


Could blackcurrants be useful in reducing airway inflammation in asthmatics?

Asthma is a condition that affects many adults and children in the UK.  Previously I have mentioned some studies that indicated that fruit and vegetable consumption reduces the prevalence of airway inflammation and childhood asthma.

A recent study (1) has found that blackcurrant polyphenolic flavonoids (plant chemicals) extracts have been shown to alleviate lung inflammation.  The study was a cell study so more research would be necessary to test how effective blackcurrant or other fruits would be in helping those suffering with asthma, however the results add to currently available data that links fruit and vegetable consumption to a reduction of asthma symptoms.

The study authors say “The progression of an allergic immune response is complex, identifying plant compounds that target specific cellular events and complement the body’s own immune actions is important for the development of functional foods.  Our findings support the potential for blackcurrant polyphenolic compounds to reduce….airway inflammation(1).

Fruits and vegetables are abundantly rich in all sorts of vitamins and flavonoids (a group of over 4000 plant compounds).  Studies have shown that certain flavonoids appear to reduce the risk and severity of asthma symptoms.  This is probably due to the anti-inflammatory properties that flavonoids exhibit in the body.  It may be that the compounds are acting to reduce the amount of histamine in the body.  Asthmatics tend to have high histamine levels.  Histamine is produced by cells of the immune system and stimulates an inflammatory reaction in the body which may be responsible for the wheezing and shortness of breath in asthma sufferers.

The study mentioned above (1) found that certain proanthocyanadin flavonoids compounds, especially epigallocatechin found in blackcurrants seemed to reduce lung cell inflammation.  Epigallocatechin is a known antioxidant and may be protecting the body through these mechanisms, however this study interestingly finds that the compound also acts to reduce inflammation.

In a press release (2) one of the study authors says “To find natural compounds that potentially reduce lung inflammation and complement the body’s own immune response is an exciting breakthrough,” “Should we discover more about how this works we may eventually develop foods containing these compounds that could provide more natural alternatives to assist conventional drug treatments for asthma and even other allergic re-actions.

I think that the take-home message from such studies is that eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits (especially flavonoid rich berries) and vegetables is important for a variety of health reasons, including reduction of asthma symptoms.  Getting a minimum of 5 portions a day is highly recommended.  Flavonoid supplements are available however they have not yet been tested in large clinical trials and cannot be seen as an alternative to a healthy diet. 

(1)Hurst SM et al.  2010.  Blackcurrant proanthocyanidins augment IFN-gamma-induced suppression of IL-4 stimulated CCL26 secretion in alveolar epithelial cells. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research.  E-pub prior to print.  12 Mar 2010 DOI: 10.1002/mnfr.200900297

(2)Press Release.  New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research (2010, March 25). Breathe Easy: A natural fruit compound may help asthma. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/03/100325171227.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


Could boosting vitamin D levels help asthma sufferers?

There is new evidence coming to light which suggests that vitamin D could be useful to those suffering with asthma although more evidence is necessary before firm conclusions can be drawn.  It does not surprise me greatly that low vitamin D levels are implicated in asthma severity since studies over the last two years are showing just how crucial this vitamin is to the efficient functioning of the body and prevention against disease.  Here in the UK most individuals have low levels of the vitamin in their blood, increasing bodily levels of this vitamin could be incredibly useful for disease prevention, though experts are still in conflict over what optimal levels are and how much an individual should supplement. 

A recent study (1) with 54 adult asthmatics found that low levels of vitamin D were associated with impaired lung function, higher vitamin D levels were associated with better lung function “suggesting that supplementation of vitamin D levels in patients with asthma may improve multiple parameters of asthma severity and treatment response(1).  There is a need for supplementation trials in order to discover what kind of impact vitamin D supplementation could have in asthma sufferers, what level of supplementation is optimal and how the vitamin D is working in the body to product positive effects.  Recent research (2,3,4) suggests that vitamin D could be working by boosting the immune system so that it functions more effectively and efficiently.

Vitamin D could also be important in asthma prevention.  A recent(4) study which looked at the diet of pregnant women found that higher vitamin D intake during pregnancy may be protective against childhood wheeze and eczema, though this was just an association study it paves the way for further, specific research which may be useful in asthma prevention.

What is known, as mentioned in my previous posts, is that most people in the UK do not get enough vitamin D and have insufficient/deficient blood levels.  There is no current consensus about the amount of daily vitamin D intake necessary to maintain blood levels at around 40-50nmol/l (which is currently seen as optimal by many medical practitioners).  I would suggest most adult (age 18 and over) individuals in the UK would require a supplement of around 2000iu vitamin D daily.  Higher doses (up to 5000iu daily) may well be useful but I would not recommend such a regimen unless under the supervision of a medical doctor who can monitor blood levels regularly.  For children under the age of 18 lower doses would be necessary and I would suggest speaking to a medical practitioner about how much vitamin D would be needed.  When looking for vitamin D supplements two forms are generally available.  Cholecalciferol, known as vitamin D3, and ergocalciferol or vitamin D2. Cholecalciferol is generally taken to be the more potent, easily absorbed and preferred form of vitamin D.

Please read my other posts relating to asthma since there are some very useful nutritional strategies that can be employed to help asthma sufferers.  In particular two posts ‘Can dietary change help asthmatics to breathe easier’ part 1 and part 2 contain lots of helpful ideas.

(1) Sutherland ER et al.  2010.  Vitamin D Levels, Lung Function and Steroid Response in Adult Asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010 Jan 14. [Epub ahead of print]
(2) Maruotti N & Cantatore FP.  2010.  Vitamin d and the immune system. J Rheumatol. 37(3):491-5.
(3) Lange NE et al.  2009.  Vitamin D, the immune system and asthma.  Expert Rev Clin Immunol.  5:693-702
(4)Rode von Essen M et al.  2010.  Vitamin D controls T cell antigen receptor signaling and activation of human T cells.  Nature Immunology (7 March 2010) doi:10.1038/ni.1851 Article
(5) Miyake Y et al.  2009.  Dairy food, calcium, and vitamin D intake in pregnancy and wheeze and eczema in infants. Eur Respir J.  2009 Oct 19. [Epub ahead of print]

Written by Ani Kowal


High folate levels linked to reduced allergies

Previously I have written about folic acid and the prevention of birth defects and also the necessity of this vitamin for heart health.  A newly published study (1) has found that this essential B vitamin may also suppress allergic reactions and reduce the severity of allergy symptoms and asthma symptoms. The research was conducted by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre.

The Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre is Maryland’s largest paediatric hospital (USA).  Hopkins Children’s offers the best care available in modern paediatric medicine and U.S. News & World Report ranks Hopkins Children’s among the top four children’s hospitals in the USA.

The scientists believe that this is the first human study to look at the link between the levels of folate in the blood and allergy.  Folate is the naturally occurring form of folic acid.  Previous evidence exists to show that folate can help regulate inflammation which is a big factor in allergy.  For more information on eating to help prevent and reduce allergy symptoms please read my previous posts on asthma and hay fever these are full of general tips, advice and supplement ideas.

In this current study(1) the researchers from the Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre reviewed the medical records of over 8,000 people aged 2-85.  The researchers looked at the effect of folate levels on allergic symptoms and on the levels of specific immune system markers, IgE antibodies, which tend to rise in response to an allergen (allergic trigger).

It was found that individuals with the highest levels of folate had the lowest levels of IgE antibodies in their blood.  These people also reported fewer allergies and allergic symptoms, less wheezing and had a lower likelihood of having asthma.  In a press release (2) the scientists said: “Our findings are a clear indication that folic acid may indeed help regulate immune response to allergens, and may reduce allergy and asthma symptoms,” They also say “But we still need to figure out the exact mechanism behind it, and to do so we need studies that follow people receiving treatment with folic acid, before we even consider supplementation with folic acid to treat or prevent allergies and asthma.”

Specific findings of the study (2):
*People with the lowest folate levels (below 8 nanograms per milliliter) had 40% higher risk of wheezing than people with the highest folate levels (above 18 ng/ml).
*People with the lowest folate levels had a 30% higher risk than those with the highest folate levels of having elevated IgE antibodies, markers of allergy predisposition.
*Those with the lowest folate levels had 31% higher risk of atopy (allergic symptoms) than people with the highest folate levels.
*Those with lowest folate levels had 16% higher risk of having asthma than people with the highest folate levels.
*The Hopkins team is planning a study comparing the effects of folic acid and placebo in people with allergies and asthma.

Many cereals and grain products are already fortified with folate, and folate is found naturally in green, leafy vegetables, beans and nuts.  As mentioned in the posts on asthma and hay fever an overall healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, omega 3 fats from oily fish and nuts/seeds (especially walnuts and flaxseeds), unprocessed wholegrains and unprocessed meats will go far in nourishing the body, keeping inflammation low, and helping it to deal effectively with potential allergic triggers.  Please do read the previous posts for more information on specific important nutrients to help prevent and treat allergyies. 


(1)Matsui EC and Matsui W.  2009.  Higher serum folate levels are associated with a lower risk of atopy and wheeze.  published online 01 May 2009.  The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.  DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2009.03.007.
(2) Press release, Folic Acid May Help Treat Allergies, Asthma 

Written by Ani Kowal


Can Omega 3 fatty acids in late pregnancy reduce the risk of asthma development in children?

On June 16th and June 20th I wrote about asthma treatment and prevention and mentioned the apparent benefits of long chain omega 3 fatty acids (from fish oils). 

Recently published research(1) adds weight to the evidence for the benefits of fish oil supplementation in asthma prevention.  The study suggests that pregnant women who take fish oil supplements in the final trimester of their pregnancy could well be helping to reduce the risk of asthma development in their children.  The trial involved 533 women in their 30th week of pregnancy.  266 were given fish oil capsules (providing 2.7g omega 3 fatty acids) daily, 133 were given olive oil capsules and 131 were given capsules containing no oil.  The women took the capsules until delivery.  The scientists then assessed the children at age 16.  

The children of women who took the fish oil had a hugely reduced risk of developing asthma.  The risk (hazard rate) of asthma development in these children was reduced by 63% and the risk of allergic asthma was reduced by 87%. 

The authors conclude: “our results support that increasing n–3 PUFAs [fish oils] in late pregnancy may carry an important prophylactic [preventative] potential in relation to offspring asthma”.  Professor Sjurdur F Olsen, lead study author also notes “These are results from a relatively small trial and therefore it is most important that our results are confirmed by other trials before we change any dietary recommendations for pregnant women.”

As mentioned in the previous asthma posts, omega 3 fatty acids seem to have their positive effects for asthma prevention via their action on the immune system.  In the final trimester of pregnancy the developing foetus has a greater need for omega 3 fatty acids for brain development.  It may be that this is a critical time for the overall health effects of omega 3 fatty acids.

The study was carried out as part of a much larger ongoing research project, called the Early Nutrition Programming Project (EARNEST), funded by the European Commission to investigate the effects of early nutrition on later health outcomes.   It is a 5 year research programme (due to end in 2010) bringing together a multi-disciplinary team of scientists from 38 institutions in 16 European countries.  The project hopes to gain a better understanding of how nutritional conditions in early life, either pre- or postnatally can affect life-long health.  As part of the EARNEST project is the establishment of an Early Nutrition programming Academy (ENA).  The aims of the academy, among others, are to foster nutrition research and its standards, in particular as it relates to nutrition in women of childbearing age, infants and children.  It is a great step on the path to understanding the importance of early nutrition better!

If you are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, and do not regularly eat oily fish you may wish to discuss the idea of taking a fish oil (long chain omega 3 fatty acid) supplement with your doctor or midwife.  Vegetarians and vegans have the option of taking a flaxseed (sometimes called linseed) oil supplement, this is a shorter chain omega 3 fatty acid which, if taken in large enough doses, can be converted by the body into the longer chain form.


(1)Olsen SF et al.  2008.  Fish oil intake compared with olive oil intake in late pregnancy and asthma in the offspring: 16 y of registry-based follow-up from a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr.  88: 167-175.

Written by Ani Kowal


Can dietary change help asthmatics to breathe easier? Part II

At the beginning of the week I examined how a Mediterranean diet may be useful in the prevention and easing of asthma symptoms.  Today I wanted to add a little more information on the link between diet and asthma.

Salt consumption has been linked to asthma.  A review(1) of studies found that reducing salt intake may be helpful in reducing the severity of asthma attacks in affected individuals.  One study found that giving salt, an additional 6.1g per day, worsened symptoms in asthmatic patients and increased their use of inhaled steroids.  The authors of this study suggest that a low salt diet (around 5g per day) may have favourable effects in patients with asthma and can reduce the need for anti-asthma drugs(2).  Salt appears to heighten the airways’ response to histamine causing increased airway constriction(3).  Avoiding the addition of salt to food and limiting consumption of processed foods might help to reduce asthma symptoms and is also a good idea for all of us.  Excess salt has been linked to various conditions including high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, kidney problems, osteoporosis and fluid retention (for more information on salt and health visit Consensus Action on Salt and Health CASH).

Interesting evidence shows that the gut bacteria of healthy infants appears different to those who suffer from allergies, eczema and asthma (known as ‘atopic’ infants).  Atopic infants seem to have a disturbed balance between beneficial and potentially harmful bacteria in their large intestine(4,5,6).  A healthy balance of microorganisms in the digestive system is thought to be essential for the normal development and maturation of the immune system.  In one study, the probiotic Lactobacillus GG was give to pregnant women who had at least one first-degree relative (or partner) with an allergic condition such as atopic eczema, allergic rhinitis, or asthma.  After the birth, the probiotic was also given to the child for 6 months.  Probiotic supplementation significantly reduced risk of early allergic disease in children at high risk (7)

Research in this area is still in the early stages, clinical studies of children and supplement studies in animals do suggest that the exposure to microbes through the digestive system powerfully shapes immune function.  Taking a probiotic or prebiotic supplement during pregnancy, breastfeeding and early childhood could be considered in order to prevent against asthma/allergy development in children.  Some infant milks are already including pre probiotics in their formulation (Always check with a doctor before undergoing any supplementation programme, especially during pregnancy).

Finally I would like to mention food allergies.  If your child suffers from asthma it may be worth taking them to the doctor for a skin-prick test in order to determine whether they suffer from a true food allergy.

Food sensitivity may be an underlying factor in asthma, especially in childhood asthma.  In one study, 91% of children with respiratory allergy improved on a six-week diet that excluded common problem foods including grains and dairy products(8).  And a review(9) found that approximately 5% to 8% of asthma patients have a food allergy that can be confirmed via a food challenge. Identification and elimination of problem foods is often a useful strategy in the management of asthma.  This should always be done under the supervision of a doctor. 

(1)Mickleborough TD & Fogarty A. 2006. Dietary sodium intake and asthma: an epidemiological and clinical review.  International Journal of Clinical Practice.  60:1616-1624.
(2)Medici TC et al.  1993.  Are asthmatics salt-sensitive? A preliminary controlled study. Chest.  Oct;104(4):1138-43
(3)Burney PG et al.  1981.  The effect of changing dietary sodium on the bronchial response to histamine.  Thorax.  44(1):36-41
(4)Kirjavainen PV et al.  2001.  characterizing the composition of intestinal microflora as a prospective treatment target in infant allergic disease.  FEMS Immunol Med Microbiol.  32:1-7. 
(5)Kirjvainen PV et al.  2002.  Aberrant composition of gut microbiota of allergic infants: a target of bifidobcterial therapy at weaning.  Gut.  51:51-55. 
(6)Murch, SH.  2001.  Toll of allergy reduced by probiotics.  Lancet.  357:1057-1059
(7)Kalliomaki M et al.  2001.  Probiotics in primary prevention of atopic disease: a randomised placebo-controlled trial.  Lancet.  357:1076-1079
(8)Ogle KA & Bullock JD.  1980.  Children with allergic rhinitis and/or bronchial asthma treated with elimination diet: a five-year follow-up.  Ann Allergy.  May;44(5):273
(9)Miller A.  2001.  The etiologies, pathophysiology, and alternative/complementary treatment of asthma.  Alternative Medicine Review.  6(1):20-47.

Written by Ani Kowal


Can dietary change help asthmatics to breathe easier? Part I

It seems like an odd link, diet and breathing, but actually it makes enormous amounts of sense.  Our bodies need nutrients to function effectively.  Nutrition affects every cell from those that make up our bones to those of the skin.  The lungs and the cells of the immune system, both of which are involved in asthma, are no exception.  During an asthma attack the immune system produces certain antibodies (immunoglobulin E) and these stimulate the release of a chemical called histamine in the lining of the airways in the lungs.  The airways consequently become inflamed and swollen, excess mucous is also released and this can block the smaller airways and affect breathing.

The asthma statistics(1) for the UK are shocking.  5.2 million of us are currently receiving treatment for the condition.  1.1 million sufferers are children, that represents 1 in 10 kids, and 4.1 million are adults, that is 1 in 12.  On average there will be 3 children in every classroom who have asthma in the UK.  We also have the highest prevalence of severe wheeze in children aged 13-14 years WORLDWIDE!  Not a position to be proud of.  Every 19minutes a child is admitted to hospital due to their asthma and asthma costs the NHS over £996million per year.  Employers ought to care too as over 12.7million working days are lost to asthma each year.

I am an optimist, so this post is not all doom and gloom!  Dietary change can make a terrific difference!

The decision to write about asthma was prompted by two reasons.  The first was watching a child come out of a fast-food outlet and immediately using his “puffer” medication and the second was that two very interesting studies(2,3) have been published this month which link the adherence to a Mediterranean diet to a reduction in asthma symptoms.

In the first study(2) the scientists looked at the diet of 1784 children who were aged around 4 years, they found that adhering to a traditional Mediterranean diet was a protective factor for wheezing.  The second study(3) looked at diet during pregnancy and what affect that had on children when they were 6 years old.  The results indicate a protective effect of adherence to a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy against asthma-like symptoms (including wheezing and allergy) in childhood.  The lead scientist of the second study, Dr Chatzi, has previously published studies which indicate the protective effects of a Mediterranean diet against asthma symptoms.

So what constitutes a traditional Mediterranean diet?  Basically, this is healthy diet rich in a variety of different fruits and vegetables, legumes (peas and beans), oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil and unrefined wholegrains.  The diet is also high in fibre and relatively low in red meat, saturated fats and trans fatty acids (which are abundant in some processed foods).  The total fat content in general is relatively high but the type of fat is monounsaturated and also high in omega 3 fatty acids.  There are many reasons why this kind of healthy balanced diet could reduce the prevalence of asthma symptoms:

Fruits and vegetables are abundantly rich in all sorts of vitamins and flavonoids (a group of over 4000 plant compounds).  Studies (7,8) have shown that the flavonoid quercetin (found abundantly in onions and apples) appears to reduce the risk and severity of asthma symptoms.  This is probably due to the anti-inflammatory properties that quercetin exhibits in the body.  Vitamin C may be particularly important to asthmatics (9) as it seems to reduce the degree of constriction in the airways.  Studies (10) have found that asthma sufferers tend to have lower plasma vitamin C levels than non-asthmatics and supplementation of 1000mg Vitamin C a day may help improve lung function and reduce the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.  As mentioned in the post on hayfever, Vitamin C and Quercetin both act as natural anti-histamines in the body.  Asthmatics tend to have high histamine levels.  Histamine is produced by cells of the immune system and stimulates an inflammatory reaction in the body which may be responsible for the wheezing and shortness of breath in asthma sufferers.

Other vitamins and nutrients found in fruits and vegetables, such as carotenes, have also been implicated as important for prevention of symptoms in asthma sufferers.

Nuts, Seeds and Wholegrains are rich in the mineral magnesium.  A diet high in magnesium may well be useful for asthmatics since this important mineral appears to alleviate the bronchoconstriction (tightening of the airways in the lungs) associated with asthma.  There are many studies (far too many for me to list) which indicate the importance of magnesium in those suffering with asthma.  A study in children showed that low magnesium intakes are associated with poorer lung function(4) another found that asthma patients supplemented with 400 mg magnesium a day showed an improvement in asthma symptom scores(5).  Many studies have also found that asthmatics commonly have lower levels of magnesium in their blood(e.g. 6).  The National Diet and Nutrition Surveys (NDNS) for the UK have found that dietary intakes of magnesium are generally low in most children and women in the UK.  We would all do well to try and include more nuts, seeds and wholegrains into our daily diets. 

Fat:  There is some evidence that asthma may be related to an imbalance in fatty acids in the diet.  An Australian study(11) found that a diet high in omega 6 fatty acids and low in omega 3 fatty acids increased the risk of asthma symptoms in a large group of children.  Excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils, and a relative lack of omega-3 fats, found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel and some nuts and seeds, seems to promote inflammation and aggravate asthma. Inflammatory chemicals produced from omega 6 fats by the immune system can trigger constriction of the airways and mucous production.  Omega 3 fatty acids are involved in the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals by the cells of the immune system. 

One study(12) in asthmatic patients found that supplementation with corn oil (rich in omega-6 fats) tended to increase the production of inflammatory white blood cells, whereas supplementation with perilla seed oil (rich in omega-3 fats) had the opposite effect.  Patients treated with perilla seed oil also had significant increases in their lung function.  In another study(13), supplementation with fish oil (rich in the omega 3-fats) for 10 months reduced asthma symptom scores in a group of children.  Avoidance of excessive amounts of margarine and vegetable oils, and the inclusion of oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and herring (or flaxseed oil for vegetarians) in the diet may, therefore, possibly help to control asthma symptoms.  Using olive oil in place of vegetable oils will probably prove useful as it is a monounsaturated fat and does not contribute to inflammation in the body, indeed it may even play a role in reducing inflammation(14).


In part II I will be covering other important dietary measures that affect asthmatics

(1) Asthma UK
(2) Castro-Rodriguez JA et al.  2008.  Mediterranean diet as a protective factor for wheezing in preschool children.  J Pediatr.  152(6):823-8, 828
(3) Chatzi L et al.  2008Mediterranean diet in pregnancy is protective for wheeze and atopy in childhood. Thorax.  63(6):507-13
(4) Gilliland FD et al.  2002.  Dietary magnesium, potassium, sodium and children’s lung function.  Am J Epidemiol.  155(2):125-131
(5) Hill J et al.  1997.  Investigation of the effect of short-term change in dietary magnesium intake in asthma.  Eur Respir J.  Oct;10(10):2225-9.
(6) Alamoudi OS.  2000.  Hypomagnesemia in chronic, stable asthmatics: prevalence, correlation with severity and hospitalization.  Eur Resoir J.  16:427-431
(7) Knekt P et al.  2002.  Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases.  Am J Clin Nutr.  76:560-568.
(8) Saheen SO et al.  2001.  Dietary antioxidants and asthma in adults: population-based case-control study.  Am J Respir Crit Care Med.  164:1823-1828
(9) Bielory L et al.  1994.  Asthma and Vitamin C.  Annals Allergy.  73(2):89-96.
(10) Harik-Khan RI et al.  2004.  Serum vitamin levels and the risk of asthma in children.  Am J Epidemiol.  159:351-357.
(11) Oddy WH et al. 2004. Ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids and childhood asthma.  Journal of Asthma.  41:319-326.
(12) Okamoto, M et al.  2000.  Effects of dietary supplementation with n-3 fatty acids compared with n-6 fatty acids on bronchial asthma.  Intern Med.  39(2):107-111
(13) Nagakura et al.  2000.  Dietary supplementation with fish oil rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with bronchial asthma.  Eur Resp J.  16(5):861-865.
(14) Beauchamp GK et al.  2005.  Phytochemistry: ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil.  Nature.  437:45-46.

Written by Ani Kowal