This chronic inflammatory disease leaves more than 20 million Americans gasping for breath. During an asthma attack, the airways of the lungs swell and narrow, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. Severe attacks may require emergency care and can be fatal. While asthma can’t be cured, it can be managed using the following strategies.
Although there is no specific “asthma diet,” what you eat can impact your symptoms. Studies show that people who regularly eat foods high in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, have lower rates of asthma. If you suffer from asthma, it’s also smart to avoid trans-fats and limit your intake of omega-6 fatty acids. These fats can be found in some brands of margarine, as well as many processed foods, and may worsen asthma.
It’s not only what you eat, but how much you eat, that can affect your asthma symptoms. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to suffer from more severe asthma symptoms than those who are at a healthy weight.
Many environmental factors can trigger an attack or worsen asthma symptoms. Exposure to pollen, animal dander, or air pollution may make your asthma worse. Second-hand smoke can trigger an attack and damage tiny hair-like structures in the airways called cilia that rid the respiratory tract of dust and mucus. While it’s impossible to sidestep all asthma triggers, it’s particularly important to avoid tobacco smoke and consider a quality air filter for the area you sleep.
One asthma trigger you should not avoid is exercise. Depending on the severity of your asthma, you may be able to engage in short periods of activity. Walking, biking, swimming, and moderate interval training may be well tolerated. Several clinical trials also suggest that yoga may be especially beneficial for those with asthma.
Fish oil: has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe inflamed airways. The two types of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may also protect against exercise-induced asthma. A small, randomized, double-blind, crossover clinical study in the journal Chest concluded that fish oil reduced the severity of exercise-induced airway narrowing in 16 people with persistent, mild-to-moderate asthma. Fish oil supplementation improved lung function and reduced concentrations of several markers of inflammation. The researchers also reported a 31 percent reduction in asthma inhaler use among the participants. Typical dosage: 2 to 3 grams daily.
Herbal Anti-Inflammatories: like boswellia and butterbur have been shown in clinical trials to reduce the number, duration, and severity of asthma attacks by reducing inflammation in the bronchial airway. Typical dosage: Use either 300 mg of boswellia three times per day or 25 to 50 mg of butterbur twice a day.
Lycopene: is an antioxidant found in tomatoes and watermelon that may help ease airway hyperactivity, especially in people with exercise-induced asthma. One study, which appeared in the journal Allergy, found that 55 percent of asthmatics taking a daily dose of supplemental lycopene experienced significantly better post-exercise lung function than those taking a placebo. Typical dosage: 30 mg daily.
Magnesium: is a mineral often found to be low in people with asthma. Supplementing with the mineral may help reduce asthmatic attacks because magnesium can prevent bronchial spasms and reduce symptoms.
Pycnogenol: is a bioflavonoid-rich antioxidant from the bark of French maritime pine. A recent trial involving 76 asthma patients already using an inhaler found that 55 percent of participants who added a Pycnogenol supplement to their treatment plan experienced significant improvement in their symptoms. Typical dosage: 50 mg twice a day.