By medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer, an expert in food, herbs and supplements
Asthma is a long-term, inflammatory condition in which the lining of the lungs becomes overly sensitive to certain triggers. This causes airway spasm producing symptoms of cough, wheezing and shortness of breath.
When you have an inflammatory condition such as asthma, your need for antioxidants is greatly increased, and it’s important to obtain your five-a-day fruit and vegetables as a minimum. The types of fat in the diet also regulate inflammation, and usual advice is to increase your intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 found in oily fish.
People who eat oily fish at least twice a week are half as likely to experience asthma, wheezing or chest tightness on waking compared to those who eat little oily fish – even when other factors such as smoking are taken into account. Fish oils can also reduce the severity of exercise-induced asthma. Aim to eat 150g oily fish (salmon, herrings, mackerel, sardines, pilchards, kippers) at least twice a week, or take an omega-3 fish oil supplement supplying at least 1g EPA and DHA per day.
At the same time, cut back on omega-6s which promote inflammation, by reducing your intakes of processed foods and using olive oil or rapeseed oil in place of sunflower, safflower and corn oils.
Vitamin C is one of the main antioxidants protecting lung airways, and helps to reduce inflammation triggered by inhaled antigens. It also has an antiviral action against colds that are a known trigger for asthma. Taking vitamin C can reduce asthma attacks by a quarter compared with placebo.
Vitamin D is thought to boost the body’s immune system and lessen the response to triggers such as dust mites, as well as reducing levels of inflammatory molecules that promote increased sensitivity in the lungs.
Magnesium has a muscle relaxing effect to help reduce constriction of the airways. People with low magnesium levels are more likely to experience airway spasms and worsening asthma.
Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance needed for energy production in cells and is also a powerful antioxidant. Blood levels of Q10 are typically lower in people with asthma.
Probiotics prime the immune system with ‘friendly’ bacteria to reduce development of allergic diseases. They appear reduce airway hypersensitivity and allergic airway responses. When taken during pregnancy, and in infancy, for example, they offer some protection against childhood asthma.
Pycnogenol is an extract from the bark of the French maritime pine and contains powerful antioxidants that are as effective in preventing the release of histamine as the anti-asthma drug, sodium cromoglicate, to reduce the frequency and severity of asthma symptoms.
Garlic contains antioxidants and has antibacterial and antiviral properties to help protect against colds.
Turmeric contains curcumin which has a powerful anti-inflammatory action and helps to relax smooth muscles to reduce airway spasm. Turmeric is also used as a traditional asthma treatment in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine to relieve cough and reduce mucus production.
NB If you are taking any prescribed medication, always check with your doctor before taking supplements as some, such as turmeric, can interact with medication.
About Dr Sarah Brewer
Dr Sarah Brewer is a medical nutritionist and an expert in food, herbs and supplements. She qualified from Cambridge University with degrees in natural sciences, medicine and surgery. After working in general practice, she gained a master’s degree in nutritional medicine. Sarah is a licensed medical doctor, a registered nutritionist and a registered nutritional therapist.
Subscribe to her newsletter to get a FREE 46-page PDF Do You Need A MultiVitamin? at nutritionupdates.subscribemenow.com.