Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 18, 2017
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An apple a day keeps asthma away

More and more clients are showing up at my office with asthma. Recently, a new study done at the University of Illinois Family Resiliency Center (1) showed that children with asthma do better if their families have regular mealtimes.

While the researchers suggest that the children’s improved lung function is due to the reassuring effect of regular meals with the family, other studies have shown that eating together leads to the development of healthier eating habits. (2)

Is it possible that nutrition can affect asthma? There’s significant evidence showing that specific nutrients in adequate amounts can impact the development of asthma. Surprisingly, the relationship is not food specific and not only related to a specific food allergy. The nutrients looked at include vitamins A, C and E, magnesium, selenium and sodium as well as other antioxidants.

Antioxidant vitamins

A few studies (3,4) have noted that low intakes of vitamins A, C and E are related to lower levels of lung function in children and teens. To date, when we add supplements of these vitamins to the diet, there has been no evidence to suggest that they can be used to treat asthma. When taken together, however, they do seem to protect against the ozone effects seen in asthma. There are also some reports that taking a natural-source vitamin A supplement may guard against exercise-induced asthma.

Other antioxidants

A recent study (5) suggested that an antioxidant found in blackcurrants may reduce lung inflammation found in allergy-induced asthma.

Vitamin D

A recent study (6) showed that children with lower levels of vitamin D had lower lung function and used more medication to control their asthma. It’s not clear whether the low levels caused more severe asthma or if the low levels increased resistance to the steroid drugs. In separate lab tests, vitamin D enhanced the activity of corticosteroids.

The study also showed that low vitamin D levels are as prevalent in children as they are in adults. In this study almost 50 percent of the children had low levels of vitamin D.

Minerals A study in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Asthma (7) showed that people who suffer from asthma and who consumed a magnesium supplement for six months had increased measures of lung capacity as well as improved quality of life. Other studies (8) have shown that a decreased selenium intake in patients with asthma caused a corresponding decrease of the mineral in blood levels. Supplementation resulted in improved asthma control.

Sodium is another mineral that has been studied.(9) The result: consuming too much will worsen hyper-responsiveness.

Fatty acids Since omega-3 fatty acids are related to a reduced risk of inflammation, it’s no surprise that eating a higher amount of fish safeguards against the development of asthma.

However, no trials have been done to see if supplementing with omega- 3 fatty acids can be used as a treatment.

It is also important to note that dietary interventions may be needed to treat people with asthma who are sensitive to sulfites, have GERD or who are overweight.

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