Asthma – Causes, symptoms and dietary guidelines

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Asthma – Causes, symptoms and dietary guidelines

Asthma is a common disease worldwide. It affects approximately 26 million persons in the United States. Asthma is a lung disease that can cause breathing problems during someone’s lifetime. An individual with asthma has a little swelling or inflammation inside the airways, with or without symptoms.

A hand holding an inhaler
Photo by Luci from Pexel

What happens when you have asthma?

A healthy airway is clear with no swelling inside it. There is no extra mucus and the air moves freely. Asthma can cause changes within the airway, all of which narrows the opening. It makes breathing difficult. The lungs react to things that may not bother other people. These are known as triggers which could be anything for example dust, smoke, pollen, etc.

Comparison of healthy lung and Asthmatic lung illustration
Image by brgfx from freepik

Three main changes can happen in your lungs:-

  1. Swelling and inflammation: Firstly, the airways get swollen and irritated, which narrows them down making it hard for air to flow through.
  2. Extra mucus production: It clogs the airways, making the opening even smaller.
  3. Muscle tightening: The third change that can happen with asthma is the tightening of the muscles that surround your airways, called bronchoconstriction. This reduces the opening even more.

When someone with asthma comes in contact with an asthma trigger such as dust, tobacco smoke, or even when laughing, any one or all three of the airway changes can happen. This is known as an asthma attack, or episode. All of these changes contribute to the narrowing of the airways which makes it hard to breathe.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Difficulty in breathing.
Illnesses infographic poster with cartoon boy character suffering from different symptoms with medication and editable text vector illustration
Image by macrovector from Freepik


  • Airborne allergens, such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander or particles of cockroach waste
  • Respiratory infections, such as the common cold
  • Physical activity
  • Cold air
  • Air pollutants and irritants, such as smoke
  • Strong emotions and stress

Role of diet in managing Asthma

A well balanced diet keeps the mind and body healthy. Eating right foods can support our immune system and improve our health. Risk of asthma can be lowered by including higher amount of vitamin C, and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

Vitamin D plays an important role in boosting immune system responses and helps to reduce airway inflammation. Adults and children with asthma attacks usually have low levels of vitamin D

Food sources of vitamin D include: fortified milk, salmon, orange juice and eggs.

Vitamin E contains a chemical compound called tocopherol. It may decrease the risk of some asthma symptoms like coughing or wheezing.

Sources of vitamin E include: almonds, raw seeds, Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, broccoli and hazelnuts.

Preparing plant-based food for managing asthma
Image by from Freepik

Dietary guidelines for Asthma

  • Benefits of plant based diet: – They’re a good source of antioxidants such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E. It may help in reducing lung swelling and irritation caused by cell-damaging chemicals known as free radicals. Plant-based diets are also high in fiber. Fiber promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which plays a role in immune responses and airway diseases. The antioxidants and flavnoids in plant has a positive effect on treatment of symptoms.
  • Avoid sulphites: – Sulphites can increase asthma symptoms in some people. Suphites are used in wine, dried fruits, pickles, fresh and frozen shrimp, etc. as preservatives. It can give off sulphur dioxide that can irritate the lungs.
  • Avoid food that causes gas: – Avoid foods that cause gas or bloating, because it often make breathing more difficult. This may cause chest tightness and trigger asthma flare ups.
    Foods to avoid include: beans, carbonated drinks, onions, garlic and fried foods.
  • Avoid high fat foods: – Consumption of saturated fat, and low fiber intake can increase airway inflammation and lung function in asthma patients.

Obesity and Asthma

An obese man on a weighing scale. Relation between asthma and obesity
Image by Chanwity281 from Freepik

According to one of the papers published by American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, obesity is an important risk factor for asthma in children and adults. Obese persons BMI value is higher than or equals to 30. Adults who are obese tend to have more severe asthma than lean adults. The chances of their hospitalization are 4-6 % more than those of people who are not overweight.

Maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce the risk for asthma and help with managing symptoms. Including healthy food choices in diet and remaining active helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Avoid high calorie and ultra-processed food items. Avoid unhealthy snacks and include more fruits and vegetables.

Obesity is seen with low circulating vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency might be a risk factor for the development of both obesity and asthma.

Food restrictions and allergies differs from person to person. A single food or vitamin will cannot supply all the nutrients that are required. A diet with a variety of vitamins and nutrients that keep our minds and bodies healthy.

Hence, it is important to consult your doctor or nutritionist before making any big changes to your diet.

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