What role, if any, does nutrition play in the development and management of asthma? It’s a question you may encounter as a clinician. What should you tell your patients?
Currently, there isn’t much evidence to suggest nutrition plays a direct role in the development or worsening of asthma. However, nutrition can have an impact on a patient’s overall health, and their overall health can in turn affect their asthma. Someone who is already at risk for asthma may want to take nutritional precautions to avoid worsening their lung health and breathing.
Here’s what is known about nutrition’s role in asthma.
Maternal Nutrition and Asthma
There’s not much research to suggest a direct correlation between maternal nutrition and developing asthma, though there is evidence to suggest nutrition could affect pulmonary health. A 2021 study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at the role of nutritional factors in asthma.¹ The researchers found that some foods and vitamins had a protective role in lessening the risk of wheezing early in life. These factors include vitamin D, vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The researchers also found similarly protective effects from fruits, vegetables, and the Mediterranean diet.
Other studies have suggested that certain unhealthy maternal dietary choices have the potential to increase asthma risk, notably free sugar and sweetened beverages.²
Obesity and Physical Activity
Obesity has long been seen as a major risk factor for asthma. Diet and obesity are linked, and as such it’s often recommended that patients make many of the same dietary choices outlined for proper maternal nutrition: intake of Vitamin D, vitamin A, and magnesium may help support lung function.³ Antioxidants in fruits like apples and bananas can also help, as well as significantly decreasing the intake of processed foods.
Patients with asthma are less likely to partake in physical activity, in large part due to the risks it can pose to their breathing. Physical activity prior to asthma diagnosis is recommended to help prevent future problems. While physical activity is generally recommended in asthma treatment, there is not much in the way of guidelines for intensity and duration.¹
Maintaining a healthy weight will not rid patients of asthma entirely, but it can have a significant impact on asthma outcomes and their ability to control their condition. Maintaining a healthy weight is often recommended alongside other lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking.
Foods to Avoid
There are some dietary restrictions that can help prevent poor asthma-related outcomes, such as avoiding foods that trigger a patient’s allergy.⁴ It’s also recommended that patients avoid sulfites, which may worsen asthma. Sulfites are a preservative often found in wine, shrimp, dried fruits, and pickled foods. Patients may also want to avoid foods that cause gas, as they may result in acid reflux or put pressure on the diaphragm, which can tighten the chest and increase the risk of an asthma trigger.³
1. Bédard A, Li Z, Ait-Hadad W, et al. The role of nutritional factors in asthma: challenges and opportunities for epidemiological research. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(6):3013. Published 2021 Mar 15. doi:10.3390/ijerph18063013
2. Lee-Sarwar K, Litonjua AA. As you eat it: effects of prenatal nutrition on asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol Pract. 2018;6(3):711-718. doi:10.1016/j.jaip.2018.01.026
3. Diet recommended for people with asthma. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/asthma/asthma-diet. Updated April 30, 2019. Accessed September 23, 2021.
4. Asthma diet: does what you eat make a difference? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/asthma/expert-answers/asthma-diet/faq-20058105. Updated March 21, 2020. Accessed September 23, 2021.