According to the Lung Foundation of Australia, we take around 22,000 breaths a day. But for the 1 in 9 Australians and 1 in 6 New Zealanders living with asthma – that’s 2.5 million and 700,000 respectively – breathing isn’t something that can be taken for granted.
Daily breath is dependent on the health of our respiratory system, including the lungs and its surrounding airways, which ensures we take in oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. But the inflammation of the airways that occurs with asthma impedes the normal functioning of this system, leading to a need for medication and often limiting the activities sufferers can participate in. It isn’t clear what causes asthma and its resultant wheezing and breathlessness, although there’s often a family history of the disease, eczema or hayfever. Nor is there a cure but, according to Asthma Australia, it can be well controlled for most people by following a daily management plan.
One aspect of asthma management is maintaining general lung health, which can be influenced by many things including our weight, the amount of activity we do, and what we eat. In recent years, researchers have looked more closely at the impact of a healthy diet, including more fruits and vegetables, on our risk of being diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma, which share similar characteristics).
One such study, published in the BMJ, was a prospective cohort analysis of more than 120,000 US women and men based on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for which participants fill out biennial surveys. It found that a high intake of whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids, nuts, and long chain omega-3 fats and low intakes of red and processed meats, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened drinks, was associated with a lower risk of newly diagnosed COPD.
Another study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported on the research conducted by Professor Lisa Wood and her team at the University of Newcastle. The study, which considered the effects of a high-antioxidant diet compared with those of a low-antioxidant diet in asthma, concluded that “modifying dietary antioxidant consumption alters clinical asthma outcomes” and that “clinical improvements are evident only as a result of an increased fruit and vegetable intake”.
Eating whole foods is best in order to achieve maximum results. The key, as Wood writes in a paper for The Conversation, is that people with respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma typically suffer from inflamed airways and in terms of diet: “Fruit and vegetables are a rich source of several nutrients, in particular soluble fibre and antioxidants, that have been shown to reduce inflammation.”
Filled with goodness but when it comes to lungs it’s antioxidant flavonoids that give apples their crunch. One in particular, quercetin helps protect against inflammation caused by pollution. Remember to keep the skin on for an extra hit of fibre.
That tempting orange colour in carrots is due to beta-carotene, one of many antioxidants that protect against oxidative stress in airways. Also a precursor to vitamin A which plays a vital role in the normal formation and maintenance of lungs.
A good allrounder when it comes to health, green tea has been to shown to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect.
A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology reported that ginger caused a significant and rapid relaxation of the airway smooth muscle located in the wall of airways such as the trachea.
Forget the idea of avoiding dairy unless you have been diagnosed with an allergy. It’s critical to maintain calcium levels for bone health, particularly if you have severe asthma and control inflammation with the use of steroids, which can reduce bone strength.
This veg is high in magnesium, which has been shown to reduce the severity of asthma attacks and symptoms like muscle-spasming anxiety. But if you’re thinking about taking magnesium supplements for asthma, speak with your doctor first.