Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing, which vary in severity and frequency from person to person. During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swells, causing the airways to narrow and reducing the flow of air into and out of the lungs.
Key Facts from the World Health Organization: Asthma is a chronic disease of the bronchi – the air passages leading to and from the lungs. It is the most common chronic disease among children. Most asthma-related deaths occur in low and lower-middle income countries. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways. Medication can control asthma. Avoiding asthma triggers can also reduce the severity of asthma. Asthma is difficult to cure but appropriate management of asthma can enable people to enjoy a good quality of life.
The fundamental causes of asthma are not completely understood. The strongest risk factors for developing asthma are a combination of genetic predisposition with environmental exposure to inhaled substances and particles that may provoke allergic reactions or irritate the airways, such as: indoor allergens (for example, house dust mites in bedding, carpets and stuffed furniture, pollution and pet dander), outdoor allergens (such as pollens and moulds), tobacco smoke chemical irritants in the workplace air pollution. Other triggers can include cold air, extreme emotional arousal such as anger or fear, and physical exercise. Asthma can be triggered even by certain medications such as aspirin, other non-steroid antiinflammatory drugs and beta-blockers (which are used to treat high blood pressure, heart conditions and migraine).
This section is focused on the important role that diet plays in the life of an asthma sufferer. Diet can help reduce the hyperactivity of immune cells so that they are less reactive to air pollution and allergens. Certain nutrients also help neutralize the free radicals produced, which may reduce the severity or frequency of asthma attacks and improve the function of the lungs. A healthy appropriate diet definitely has a positive impact on many people suffering from asthma. Food should be taken at regular intervals in controlled amounts to avoid overloading of the stomach, which may initiate an asthma attack. There is evidence that people who eat diets higher in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids have lower rates of asthma. Many of these substances are antioxidants, which protect cells from damage. Vitamin C-rich foods: Fruits and vegetables are essential to keep lungs healthy. Vitamin C is extremely beneficial for asthma patients who experience exercise-induced hyperactive airways.
Foods rich in vitamin C are grapes, tomatoes, pineapples, watermelons, citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, green mustard leaves, raw cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, parsley, carrots, and peppers. Vitamins B rich foods: These are green leafy vegetables, pulses, sunflower seeds and dried figs which are also good sources of magnesium (helps in control of asthma). Green vegetables are also rich in anti-oxidants and can decrease the amount of free radicals in the body which act as triggers for asthma. Lightly steamed vegetables help bring out the flavour, retain nutrients as well as make them easier to digest.
Foods with omega-3 fatty acids such as fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines and some plant sources, like flaxseed, walnuts — are believed to have a number of health benefits. Although the evidence that they help with asthma is not conclusive, it is still a good idea to include them in your diet. Foods rich in vitamin E. Turnip, soy beans, wheat germ oil, mustard, sunflower seeds are excellent sources of vitamin E. People who consume large amounts of vitamin E have a lower risk of developing asthma. Increased vitamin E intake has been shown to improve lung function significantly. Avoid trans fats and omega-6 fatty acids. There is some evidence that eating Omega-6 fats and trans-fats, found in some margarines and processed foods, may worsen asthma, and other serious health conditions such as heart disease.
Use extra virgin olive oil, if available. Reduce salt. Instead, use natural spices, such as basil (tulsi), fenugreek (methi), sage, coriander, oregano. Most of these spices contain rosmarinic acid which has antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals, and also blocks the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals such as leukotrienes. Use digestive stimulants, such as ginger, garlic, black pepper, long pepper, cumin seed, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Turmeric works as both preventive and curative for this ailment. As a preventive, you can regularly use one teaspoonful of turmeric powder, either with two teaspoons of honey or a cup of warm milk, twice daily on empty stomach. If it is used before or at onset of a nasal problem, this will reduce the intensity or acuteness of attack and bring quick relief.
Protein intake of 40 to 50 gm per day is recommended. Goat’s milk is very useful for asthmatics. Lycopene, known for its antioxidant activity, benefits especially those with exercise-induced asthma. Rich food sources of lycopene include tomatoes, guava, apricots, watermelon, papaya, red bell peppers. Have a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping. Drink plenty of water each day as it helps in cleansing the intestine.
Pranayama (breathing exercises), yoga and meditation, learned from an expert can be beneficial. For babies and young children, lack of vitamin A is related to increased susceptibility to bronchial problems. So, include plenty of carrots, tomatoes, spinach, apricots, strawberries and other foods rich in vitamin A.
Other Precautions: Avoid sulphite containing foods such as sulphur-dried fruits, shrimp, wine, bottled lemon & lime juices and avoid preservatives, as these might trigger asthma. Ripe bananas, oranges, sour fruits, lemons, sour fruit juice, and pickles may worsen asthma. Limit intake of starchy foods such as rice, lentils and potatoes as they cause constriction of bronchial arteries. Heavy coffee drinking and smoking causes thickening of bronchial vessels, leading to sleeplessness and anxiety. Tobacco smoking also leads to chronic bronchitis which can go on to cause asthma. Avoid consuming excess milk and milk products, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, fish, shellfish and tree nuts. Avoid ice cold drinks and juices as they increase the severity of lung inflammation. Appropriate management of asthma can control the disease and enable people to enjoy a good quality of life Note: If you suffer from asthma, it is advisable to consult a dietician for beneficial additions and subtractions to your asthma treatment and diet, in addition to your physician.