Food and Nutrients for Asthma

International Integrative Educational Institute   


Food and Nutrients for Asthma

foods for Asthma

In our last post we talked about general lifestyle factors that can impact asthma. Another element of long-term asthma treatment is to include anti-inflammatory herbs and foods in the diet, since asthma involves inflammation of the bronchi and an inappropriate inflammatory reaction by the body to certain substances.

Supplementation with essential fatty acids (EFAs) helps by promoting synthesis of helpful prostaglandins instead of inflammatory ones that can cause mucus secretion and bronchial spasms. Obtain these EFAs from flaxseed oil (one tablespoon per day or capsules), or capsules of evening primrose oil.

Onions and garlic are excellent anti-allergy herbs, especially for asthma. Onions contain the bioflavonoid quercetin, but both of these lily bulbs also inhibit an enzyme, lipoxygenase, which generates an inflammatory chemical, note Drs. Murray and Pizzorno in An Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. They cite a study in which oral pretreatment of guinea pigs with an onion extract markedly reduced their asthmatic response to inhalant allergens.

Chilies are effective food for allergies, especially asthma, both to prevent or treat an attack. In addition to being immune-boosting long-term, the capsaicin in chilies desensitizes airway mucosa. The effect is long-lasting, so chilies can be used preventively; there is also clinical evidence that capsaicin can break an attack once it has started.

Long-term consistent antioxidant vitamin intake, especially vitamin C, is important. Low dietary antioxidant intake is associated with increased asthma risk, according to a report from the Pulmonary Toxicology Branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A diet high in antioxidant foods and supplement of certain key ones could benefit everyone, but for asthmatics vitamin C may be especially important. Vitamin C is the most prevalent antioxidant in lung secretions, and may protect against free radical damage to lung cells.[i] Vitamin C has also been used to prevent exercise-induced asthma, and as little as two grams has been shown to open airways and suppress histamine response in clinical situations.

Magnesium can relieve muscle spasms, including the smooth muscle of the bronchi. Dr. Melvin Werbach, M.D., says there is considerable evidence that asthmatics are frequently magnesium-deficient[ii] and a Journal of the American Medical Association study published in 1989, among others, showed significant improvement in subjects treated with magnesium as compared to a placebo, including a lower rate of hospital admission than for the placebo group.[iii] A dose of 1,000 to 1,500 mg. per day is usually helpful without exceeding bowel tolerance. Magnesium also reduces the histamine response (asthmatics typically show excessive histamine release which leads to constriction of the bronchi). Irish moss, licorice, oatstraw and nettle are magnesium-rich herbs.

Studies show vitamin B6 supplementation decreases frequency and severity of asthma attacks.[iv]

[i] Hatch HE. Asthma, inhaled oxidants, and dietary antioxidants, Am J Clic Nutr 1995;61(3 suppl):625S-630S

[ii] Townsend Letter for Doctors, November 1993

[iii] Journal of the American Medical Association [262 (9):1210-13, 1989]

[iv] Donald J. Carrow, M.D., and Mitchell Chavez, C.N. in Townsend Letter for Doctors, August/September 1994.