Posted on July 21 2021
What is Asthma?
World Health Organization (WHO) reports that approx 235 million people have asthma around the world. It is one of the significant non-infectious diseases and is also the most common chronic disease among children.
It is just really a condition where your body is hypersensitive and reacts to even small triggers.
Asthma is a common and sometimes disabling disorder. It is a disease of the lungs in which the airways become narrow and inflamed. Asthma prevalence among children in India is higher than most countries across the globe.
If severe, it sometimes leads to difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In some cases, asthma could become life-threatening. The triggers can include lifestyle, nutrition, viruses, environmental chemicals and toxins, stress, allergens like pets, and drug reactions.
What are the Common allergens and Causes of Asthma?
Although the causal factors of asthma are not entirely known, but unlike the popular belief, genetics alone cannot be blamed. Your genes might load the gun, but it is eventually your lifestyle habits that pull the trigger.
The common lifestyle induced risk factors, in this case, include:
- Exposure to environmental toxins and chemicals.
- Elevated physical and mental stress levels.
- Lack of fruits and vegetables in the diet.
- Tobacco smoke.
Other factors also include:
- Viral infections
- Medication induced (like aspirin and other non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and rapid beta-blockers meant to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions, and migraine).
- Mould spores in the house.
- Dust mites at work/ home.
These are some of the asthma triggers. An increase in asthma has also been associated with rapid urbanisation.
Prevalence of asthma based on nutrition and lifestyle.
Asthma is literally the inflammation of the lining of your airways. If we can control inflammation, we can control asthma. Besides this factor, hypersensitivity is often a cause of gut dysbiosis. Read the below blog to understand more:
An anti- inflammatory diet, with plant- diversity to heal the gut is proven to be the most beneficial in preventing symptoms of asthma.
A new and comprehensive study published in the March 2020 issue of Nutrition Reviews suggests that a plant-based diet can be helpful to prevent and manage asthma, while dairy products and high- saturated fats can raise its risk.
Dietary interventions are increasingly being proven and recommended as beneficial for asthmatic patients.
More and more mounting research on this dynamic offers a new approach to asthma relief, i.e., plant-based nutrition. However, before diving into the diet benefits, let's look at specific food items linked to asthma.
The concept of using food as medicine has enlightened many. Your diet, nutrition, and lifestyle have a profound way of influencing and helping manage your illnesses and metabolic conditions.
The studies done so far have provided considerable evidence that dairy products and high-saturated fats (the kind found in eggs and animal meat), aggravate asthma.
Researchers with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) examined the evidence related to diet and asthma. The review finds that dairy consumption can raise the risk for asthma and worsen its symptoms.
“This groundbreaking research shows that filling our plates with plant-based foods — and avoiding dairy products and other high fat foods — can be a powerful tool for preventing and managing asthma.”- Dr. Hana Kahleova.
One study conducted in 2015 found that children who consumed the most dairy had higher chances of developing asthma.
Another study put children with asthma in the control group. The control group had no dietary changes, while the experimental group eliminated dairy and eggs for eight weeks.
Post the 8- week period, the experimental group experienced a 22% improvement in the peak expiratory flow rate. It is to measure how rapidly the children can exhale. Not only this, but the experimental group also tested for lower IgG levels (marker for allergy):
This was only in an 8- week period!
Why does dairy cause asthma?
In one sentence, dairy is high in fat, and low in fiber. Thus, it not only is a reason for inflammation, but also a cause for gut dysbiosis.
Researchers tried to test the effect of saturated fat in dairy products, red and processed meats, butter, and oils. They asked participants with asthma to reduce their saturated fat intake for ten weeks.
At the end of this trial, this connection was proven when participants experienced reduced airway inflammation.
Let's understand how environmental pollutants play a role.
Impacts of a plant-based diet on asthmatic patients.
Addressing diet is essential when dealing with a chronic illness such as asthma. It is specifically significant now as health experts have become increasingly confident of the powers of following a plant-based diet.
Current literature now supports and recommends increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in asthma prevention and treatment.
There are several mechanisms by which a plant-based diet might decrease the risks of asthma.
- Higher intake of fiber and it's role of improving gut health.
- Benefits of hypersensitivity suppressing phytonutrients present in plants.
- Reduced levels of saturated fat, specifically animal fat.
- Reduced risk of being overweight or obese.
A well-balanced vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet is rich in antioxidants and is typically higher in nutrient and fiber content.
Studies state that plant-based foods contain 64 times the total amount of antioxidants compared to a dairy-and-meat-based diet.
In a study as early as 1985 from Sweden, researchers conducted a 1-year experiment with a vegan diet in 35 patients with chronic asthma. In most cases, the medications used on an average for 12 years were reduced or withdrawn. 92% of those following the diet for the entire year, reported improved symptoms.
Similarly, a study on Peruvian children highlighted that fruits, vegetables, legumes, and cereals, and a plant-based diet positively reduced asthma risk.
Role of fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Besides the fiber, it is the antioxidants and flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables, which may have a protective effect. Other than improving lung function, these foods also make asthma symptoms, including wheezing, more manageable.
Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress. Specific once that are proven to be beneficial are:
Beta carotene is the compound that is converted to Vitamin A in the body. You can identify this nutrient by its bright red/ yellow colors. Think of any yellow/ red vegetables/ fruit like tomatoes, capsicum etc. They have high amounts of beta carotene.
A study on asthma and allergies in a million kids (subjects with asthma) detected lower blood levels of total carotenoids. These included beta-carotene. Thus, there is accumulating evidence suggesting that diet influences lung function.
Vitamin D supplements.
Vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin. It is associated with a boost in immune function and overall health. Unfortunately, because we do expose ourselves to sunlight anymore, we do not get enough Vitamin D.
According to a study conducted in 2015, giving asthmatic kids between 500 to 2,000 international units of vitamin D3 a day cuts asthma severity by more than half.
It is perhaps by decreasing the incidence of respiratory infections by boosting immunity while at the same time diminishing inflammation.
Maintain an optimal body weight.
Studies have revealed that overweight and obese children are at a higher risk of developing asthma. In people with asthma, a higher BMI associates with worsening asthma control in children and adolescents and asthma exacerbation in adults.
Avoiding high- calorie dairy products and filling our plates with more plant-based foods might have a duel benefit of efficiently managing a healthy weight and preventing asthma.
The role of salt intake and asthma.
Does more salt intake means more asthmatic symptoms? Several studies seem to reach this conclusion in this regard.
A study in 1940 addressed this and evaluated the influence of diets. The experiment found that diets high in salt increased asthmatic symptoms. Apart from table salt, food additives from processed foods could also be the culprit. These include preservatives, and artificial sweetners, which can trigger hypersensitivity reactions.
Although think of it this way, we mostly do not overeat salt when we eat at home. But processed foods come packed with excess salt. Even half a pizza from multiple global pizza chains contains as much as two times our required daily sodium intake.
So do asthmatic people just eat more processed foods and less fresh foods? Could this be the reason for the symptoms? It would be wise then to just cut down on processed foods. Salt (especially iodized salt) is essential to the daily diet. It is the salt found in processed foods that leads to aggravated symptoms.
In another randomised and placebo controlled trial, researchers found degradation of asthmatics on high salt intake.
Lung functions and asthma symptoms are presumed to get worse with excess salt.
What is Vitamin P? Can I supplement it?
Another important antioxidant, called Vitamin P or polyphenol phytonutrients exists in foods like like grapes, berries, apples, citrus, flax seeds, beans, broccoli, herbs, tea and soy.
These antioxidants bind to allergenic proteins and render them hypoallergenic. It also prevents inflammation. It does so by inhibiting the activation of the allergic response.
In a study, men who ate a lot of apples and kids who ate fresh fruits every day appeared to have superior lung function. The more fruit, salad and green vegetables kids ate, the better their lung function.
But can't you just replace the antioxidant with a supplement?
A study took place on randomized and controlled supplementation trial. It took the power of five tomatoes in one pill and compared to servings of the actual vegetable.
It found that the pills didn’t help as much as whole fruits and vegetables would. This proved that although the pills had some effect, whole foods are most effective. Whole foods are beneficial to get highest efficacy of antioxidant interventions. Besides, it is easy to overdo on supplements, which leads to toxicity, VS with whole foods.
The effects of environmental toxins on lung function.
Look around you, I bet you can spot at least five chemicals you are currently exposed to. Cant see them? How about:
- Air fresheners,
- Toilet cleaners,
- Floor disinfectants,
- Deodorising products/ perfumes.
These common household exposures become risk factors for respiratory disorders in childhood. Atleast one in seven cases of asthma could be accounted to common household cleaning sprays.
One of the key ingredients in chemical products that cause an attack might be fragrance. Nearly 1/3rd of the American population reports signs of migraines and headaches when exposed to fragrant induced products.
Chemical products may also be carcinogenic (cancer- causing) and lead to multiple other metabolic diseases.
So what is the solution?
Explore environmental friendly, non- toxic products. Make sure to read the ingredients and avoid hormone disrupters such as from the list below:
1 Week Meal Plan For Asthma Patients:
5 Lifestyle Changes for Asthma Patients
- Eat fruits as the antioxidants and flavonoids in them can improve lung function.
- Eat whole grains as they are associated with reduced inflammation that also benefits asthma symptoms.
- Avoid dairy/ meat and saturated fats as they are associated with airway inflammation and place you at a high risk of asthma.
- Maintain an optimal body weight and include any form of fitness.
- Eat fiber since it can positively impact oxidation, inflammation, and gut microbiota.
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