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Asthma and Diet

There’s no special asthma diet. We don’t know of any foods that reduce the airway inflammation of asthma. Beverages that contain caffeine provide a slight amount of bronchodilation for an hour or two, but taking a rescue inhaler is much more effective for the temporary relief of asthma symptoms.

However, a good diet is an important part of your overall asthma treatment plan. Just like regular exercise, a healthy diet is good for everyone. That goes for people with asthma, too. Obesity is associated with more severe asthma, so you want to take steps to maintain a healthy weight. 

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What’s more, many doctors suspect that the specific foods you eat might have a direct impact on your asthma. But further research needs to be done before we understand the exact connection between asthma and diet. If you are allergic to certain foods, you should avoid them. Allergies can trigger asthma symptoms.

Asthma and Nutrition

The incidence of asthma has risen in the United States during the past three decades, and many researchers believe that our changing diets have something to do with it. As Americans eat fewer and fewer fruits and vegetables and more processed foods, could it be that we’re bumping up our risk of developing asthma? Several research studies have suggested this, and others are ongoing, but the connection between diet and asthma remains inconclusive.

There’s evidence that people who eat diets higher in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of asthma. Many of these substances are antioxidants, which protect cells from damage.

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

However, it’s not at all clear that deficiencies of these nutrients actually caused the asthma. And studies that have used specific vitamins and minerals to treat asthma have been unsuccessful. Why? Some researchers think that it might be the interaction of different vitamins, minerals, and other antioxidants that naturally occur in foods that have the health benefits. Therefore, it’s unlikely that taking vitamins, minerals, or other food supplements will improve your asthma control and prevent symptoms of asthma.

Regardless of the specific link between asthma and diet, we do know that good nutrition is important for anyone, and especially people with chronic diseases. If you’re not getting the right nutrients, your body may be more susceptible to illness and have a harder time fighting the respiratory viruses that often trigger an asthma attack or severe asthma emergency.

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