Asthma and Diet
Asthma Attacks and Food
This article focuses on possible connections between asthma attacks and food in our daily diet, including food additives.
What is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic, potentially serious respiratory disorder. Asthma attacks cause wheezing, coughing and great difficulty breathing due to bronchial swelling, inflammation and tightness in the chest. Asthma affects more than 3 percent of the American population and 300 million people worldwide. Childhood asthma (the commonest form) is usually the result of an allergy, and symptoms may be triggered by numerous factors, including foods as well as airborne pollutants. Child asthma often occurs in families with a history of associated allergies (eg. hay fever), but 2 out of 3 children outgrow the condition by adulthood. While there is no specific cause or cure for asthma, the percentage of asthmatic patients is five times higher in the developed world, confirming theories that this breathing disorder is linked to increasing rates of air pollution, consumption of chemicals in food and dust mites in the home. Adult-onset asthma is not usually an allergic reaction to environmental conditions, but triggered by physical changes in the body such as bronchitis.
Diet Triggers For Asthma
Identifying "trigger foods" for asthma, or an asthma attack, is not easy. An essential first step is to keep a written record of your dietary habits in order to check what foods were consumed prior to an attack. Common problem-foods for asthma include: wheat, yeast, mouldy foods, nuts (eg. peanuts), cow's milk, shellfish, caffeine (eg in colas, chocolate, coffee and tea), eggs and red wine. There is recent evidence that high intakes of polyunsaturated fats in margarine may increase the risk of asthma in certain people.
Food Additives in Diet May Trigger Asthma Attack
Some child asthmatics show extreme reactions to many artificial food colorings, flavorings, flavor-enhancers and preservatives. Common problem-additives in foods include: monosodium glutamate (MSG), tartrazine (E102), sulphur dioxide, salt and nitrites. Other food additives which have proven adverse effects for asthma patients include: sulphites (banned for some foods but still used in beers and wines), salicylates, food colors (eg. E104 and E110), antioxidant additives (eg. E310, E311, E312, E321), and the range of benzoate preservatives.
Good Diet Foods For Asthma Sufferers
Foods (but not supplements) rich in antioxidants and betacarotene may be helpful in reducing asthma attacks, as their ability to neutralize free radicals may help to protect the lungs. So include more of these foods in your diet: bright-colored fruit and vegetables (eg. apricots, peaches, carrots, peppers), green leafy vegetables (eg. spinach), vitamin C rich foods (eg. oranges, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, tomatoes), and vitamin E foods (eg. soybeans, wheatgerm oil). Paradoxically, in emergencies, strong coffee may ease the effects of an asthma attack, but only for sufferers who are not taking theophylline medication. TIP: Planning a healthy diet to help protect against asthma is much easier if you teach yourself about the nutritional values of food.
Other Diet Suggestions To Help Asthma
Omega-3 essential fatty acids, particularly those in oily fish like mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, have proven anti-inflammatory benefits, although their effectiveness in reducing asthma symptoms is less well documented. Other dietitians recommend increased intake of magnesium rich foods to help relax the bronchial passageways. Again, this dietary remedy is not yet proven.
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