Asthma – how can nutrition help with this life threatening respiratory condition?
Almost half of deaths caused by Asthma could have been prevented, according to the National Review of Asthma Deaths published recently[i], which is the first UK wide investigation into asthma deaths.
One of the reasons for this is that some people do not realise that asthma is a life-threatening disease and another is because their asthma is poorly controlled.
Asthma is characterised by airway inflammation, bronchial hyperresponsiveness to non-specific stimuli and airflow obstruction, and it is the most common chronic disease of the lungs.
The symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe. When asthma symptoms get significantly worse, it is known as an asthma attack. If you or someone you know has asthma then you will be aware that some of the symptoms (see www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Asthma/Pages/Introduction.aspx) include:
- feeling breathless (you may gasp for breath)
- a tight chest, like a band tightening around it
- wheezing, which makes a whistling sound when you breathe
- coughing, particularly at night and early morning
- attacks triggered by exercise, exposure to allergens and other triggers.
You may experience one or more of these symptoms. Symptoms that are worse during the night or with exercise can mean your asthma is getting worse or is poorly controlled, in which case you should arrange to see your GP at your earliest opportunity.
You may be surprised to know that nutrition advice could help you, if you suffer from asthma or if you are concerned that a family member may be at risk of developing this condition. Below are some of the possible ways dietary changes and supplementation may help:
- As asthma is an inflammatory condition, one of the best ways to reduce inflammation is to make sure that you maintain a healthy weight and that if you need to lose a few pounds (or more) and find it difficult to do so on your own, to seek professional advice how best to achieve this.
- Ensuring your diet contains adequate amounts of magnesium, which is associated with better lung function and omega-3 fats, which improve respiratory health and reduce inflammatory markers associated with asthma. Both these essential nutrients can be assessed via a diet diary and tested via a blood sample.
- As Vitamin D modulates genes related to asthma and allergy, request a Vitamin D test from your GP and supplement with extra vitamin D if your results are less than 70 nmol/l.
- There are also several other supplements, which you can not obtain in high enough quantities through diet, that may also help reduce asthma symptoms.
Lastly, research has shown that certain strains of probiotics given in pregnancy and infancy reduced allergic reactions by 44% - so this is something I always recommend when I give pregnancy nutrition advice, even where there isn’t a history of family allergy, as allergic conditions are on the increase in the UK.
For more information about asthma or the research published on 6 May, please see: www.asthma.org.uk.
[i] The National Review of Asthma looked at deaths from asthma between 1 February 2012 and 31 January 2013.