How Nutrition can help reduce Asthma and allergy Symptoms
Now that Spring is well underway, we’re all enjoying more sunshine, warmer temperatures, and longer days. Unfortunately, another characteristic of this time of year is, you guessed it, the start of allergy season. If you or someone you know suffers from these conditions, you know how much they can impact daily life. But did you know that the food you eat can play a role in managing these symptoms? In this article, we’ll explore how your diet can affect allergies and asthma and what changes you can make to help alleviate symptoms and improve your quality of life. Allergies and asthma may be more common than we think. About 1 in 4 adults and nearly 1 in 5 children have at least one seasonal allergy (1). Allergies are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Common allergens include pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds, and mold spores (2). As for asthma, 8.3% of Americans are affected, and the prevalence is higher in children than adults. Asthma is the most common chronic illness in childhood, which leads to missed school days for children and lost work days for adults. Allergens, irritants in the air, or extreme weather conditions can trigger asthma symptoms (3). In addition, 75% of people with asthma also have seasonal a llergies (4). Let’s dive deeper and see how your body produces allergy and asthma symptoms. Seasonal allergies and asthma are inflammatory conditions resulting from an overactive immune system. The same substances that trigger your allergies can also cause asthma symptoms. Let’s ake a journey and follow the path that an allergen takes throughout your body. First, an allergen enters the body, usually through the nose or mouth. Once the immune system notices the allergen, it jumps into action. The allergen starts to cause antibodies that trigger histamines and cause inflammation. A robust immune system can fight against this allergen and eventually remove it from your system. However, by this point, you are usually left with symptoms resulting from the histamines and inflammation, such as itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. In the case of asthma, the airways narrow and produce excess mucus, making it difficult to breathe.
The good news is that we can change our diet to help avoid this cascade and the resulting symptoms.
Focus on Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants. A higher intake of antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, is associated with fewer seasonal allergies. Fruits and vegetables such as berries, spinach, apples, and oranges are excellent sources of antioxidants. People with asthma can benefit from magnesium as well. Magnesium lowers inflammation and relaxes bronchial muscles. Magnesium is abundant in pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, spinach, cashews, and almonds (5,6). According to a 2012 study, those with asthma who ate fewer fruits and vegetables (one serving of fruit and two servings of vegetables per day) had worse lung function. Then, the participants increased their fruit and vegetable consumption to seven servings a day, which resulted in a significantly reduced chance of an asthma attack (7).
Another example highlighting the health benefits of veggies comes from a 2009 study. This study showed that the sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts causes an increase in the enzymes that protect against common contaminants and lessen respiratory inflammation in the cells of the upper airways (8). Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and collards are also excellent sources of sulforaphane.
Welcome Whole Grains
A study from 2018 showed fewer asthma symptoms, and greater asthma control was associated with increased consumption of whole grains. This improvement in asthma symptoms could be due to the beneficial effect that whole grains have on reducing systemic inflammation (9). Good sources of whole grains include whole wheat bread or pasta, barley, oatmeal, brown rice, and buckwheat.
Munch on Mushrooms
A study from 2012 shows that eating a cup of mushrooms a day for a week resulted in a 50% increase in antibody production. These antibodies have an anti-inflammatory effect and boost immune function. Since both asthma and allergies are inflammatory conditions, mushroom’s immune boost and anti-inflammatory effects will benefit those individuals with both (10).
Fill up with Fiber
Dietary fiber is vital to our nutrition and overall health; most people don’t get enough. According to a study from 2019, a high-fiber diet is essential in reducing inflammation and respiratory symptoms of asthma. A proposed mechanism for this anti-inflammatory effect is our gut microbes’ increased production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs improve the lung’s response to inflammatory allergens and decrease inflammation of the airways (11). Another study from 2019 found similar results when looking at the association between dietary fiber and asthma. Greater fiber intake from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds was associated with greater asthma control. The authors also state that the results suggest dietary fiber plays a ital role in preventing asthma (12). The good news is that all plant foods contain fiber, so enjoy whichever ones you like.
Steer Clear of Saturated Fat
Dietary fat can be problematic for multiple health conditions, including asthma and allergies. consumption of a single, mixed high-fat meal increases the production and release of various inflammatory substances throughout the body. While some unsaturated fats might be protective, researchers suggest that saturated fat might induce inflammation. High-fat diets can also worsen inflammation by negatively altering gut bacteria (13). Sources high in saturated fat include meat, cheese, dairy, oils, and baked goods, such as pastries and cakes. Even keeping plant-based sources of fats, including nuts, to a minimum may improve asthma symptoms by reducing the inflammatory response.
Ditch Dairy Products
Research shows that dairy negatively affects asthma. It decreases lung function and leads to the production of inflammatory markers. The resulting inflammation causes airways to swell and mucus production, making individuals more prone to asthma attacks. Research has also shown that avoiding dairy products results in improved lung function, reduced inflammation, and beneficial effects on asthma symptoms (13). A similar mechanism can explain the link between dairy and seasonal allergies. Dairy products contain arachidonic acids, which increase the production of molecules called leukotrienes. Leukotrienes constrict your airways, making it difficult for air to get through. This can also lead to the production of mucus, which worsens allergy symptoms (14).
In summary, plant-based nutrition can benefit asthma and allergies by reducing inflammation and improving lung function. Why not incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, mushrooms, and fiber? Research has shown that these foods lower the risk and severity of asthma and allergies. You can use this to improve your health and that of your children and loved ones. You have that power! Happy Spring!
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12.) Andrianasolo, R. M., Hercberg, S., Kesse-Guyot, E., Druesne-Pecollo, N., Touvier, M., Galan, P., &amp; Varraso, R. (2019). Association between dietary fibre intake and asthma (symptoms and control): Results from the French national e-cohort NutriNet-Santé. British Journal of Nutrition, 122(9), 1040–1051. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114519001843
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14.) Preston, C. (n.d.). Allergies and dairy – tis the season. Allergies And Dairy – Tis The Season. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://www.drprestonnd.com/blog/allergies-and-dairy-is-the-season#:~:text=Seasonal%20Allergies%20And%20Dairy%20Products&amp;text=One%20of%20t %20biggest%20reasons,for%20air%20to%20get%20through.