The usual treatment for asthma involves identifying and avoiding the triggers and then using medication that either relaxes the muscles surrounding the airways (bronchodilators) or helps to dampen the immune system’s inflammatory response (steroids).
A chronic lung problem that causes difficulty breathing, the incidence of asthma is on the rise – not least of all because of the stress of Covid-19. While most of my patients know that the disorder does require seeing a doctor, too few realise that it is not just the symptoms that can be tackled but also many of the causes.
Asthma attacks can be triggered by a whole host of factors, from stress and infections (internal factors) to external ones like dust, pollen, tobacco smoke and pollution. Whatever the cause, the end result is the same – your airways swell and tighten, making it difficult to breathe. This narrowing then triggers the release of the chemical histamine, which leads to further inflammation as well as the production of excess mucus that makes breathing even more difficult.
The usual treatment for asthma involves identifying and avoiding the triggers and then using medication that either relaxes the muscles surrounding the airways (bronchodilators) or helps to dampen the immune system’s inflammatory response (steroids). What a lot of people don’t realise, however, is that taking certain nutritional steps may help to reduce the severity of symptoms (and therefore attacks) experienced in the first place. Many of my patients have stopped using their inhalers altogether.
The first star nutrient is vitamin C. Research has shown that populations that consume large amounts of fruits and vegetables have fewer attacks. The fact that asthmatics with low levels of vitamin C in their blood have more problems with wheezing simply confirms this. Why is vitamin C so important? Well, it’s a natural antihistamine, which means it’s able to block the effect of inflammatory reactions.
Studies have also shown that its antioxidant properties help to neutralise the damaging effects of pollution which can often exacerbate asthma. In fact, vitamin C has even been shown to help prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks when taken immediately prior to a workout.
And if you’re someone who needs an excuse to go for sushi, look no further: the anti-inflammatory omega-3s in oily fish will work in your favour. It’s the reason why those who live in Mediterranean and Scandinavian countries have lower rates of asthma – they eat plenty of this kind of fish.
But if sushi isn’t really on your horizon, don’t worry: the humble, magnesium-rich sukuma may also help. Studies have shown that magnesium can work directly on the smooth muscle in the bronchioles (airway branches in the lungs), helping to dilate them and stimulating an improvement in breathing in asthmatics.
Whatever you do eat, do reduce salt. Salt makes your airways more responsive to histamine leading to increased constriction. Use herbs and spices to add flavour instead.