In an ideal world, the food you eat should provide all the nutrients you need, except vitamin D which isn’t enough in foods and is mostly obtained from exposure to the sun.
However, in the real world, the diet is not perfect. In fact, asthma is more prevalent in Western countries, where processed foods are consumed in larger quantities. Even unprocessed foods that we eat have fewer nutrients than decades ago due to several factors. The soils are depleted of some important minerals. Some nutrients are lost during transportation or staying on the shelves in stores. Many people have digestive problems that affect how much of these nutrients are absorbed in the body. Finally, asthma in particular had been associated with multiple nutrient deficiencies- including omega 3, vitamins D, C, and E.
Omega 3 fatty acids
An important step to change an unhealthy diet to a healthy diet is to switch from processed food to wholesome, homemade meals. When looking at omega fatty acids, consider the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids rather than looking at omega 3 fatty acids alone. Homemade, Mediterranean-style diet has more anti-inflammatory omega 3s and less pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids, while the reverse is true for highly processed foods. For example, processed foods have a ratio of 15:1 omega 6 to omega 3, while a ratio of 2:1 is needed for optimal health. Based on research studies, omega 3 supplements have protective effects in allergies, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases. Mothers who consumed higher amounts of omega 3 during pregnancy and lactation decrease the risk of allergies, asthma, and eczema in their children. Young children who received omega 3 supplements had a lower risk of wheezing, cough, and allergies and required fewer asthma drugs.
Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin for a good reason: it is mostly made in the skin when exposed to sun rays. Foods do not provide enough vitamin D, even fatty fish or foods fortified with these nutrients. There is some evidence that vitamin D deficiency is associated with asthma and also with worse asthma control. Furthermore, having enough vitamin D levels in the body may help asthma steroid drugs work better. Vitamin D has strong anti-inflammatory effects, modulates the immune system, and supports lung health. Most people don’t spend 20-30 minutes out in the sun in a bathing suit, and some are concerned about the dangers of ultraviolet radiation. Luckily, vitamin D is widely available in supplement form and is very affordable. Vitamin D tests are also available in doctor’s offices and online kits.
Vitamin C has to be obtained from food (or supplements), as humans are unable to produce this nutrient in the body. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and potatoes. What happens if the diet lacks these foods on a regular basis? The body will have less than optimal levels of this nutrient. Severe deficiency of scurvy is rare, however many people need to improve their levels of vitamin C. Experts believe that the daily need for vitamin C increases in those with asthma, gum inflammation (gingivitis), glaucoma, arthritis, certain autoimmune diseases, infections, chronic conditions and more. Stress and environmental pollution also increase the need for this nutrient that has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to consuming more foods containing vitamin C, this nutrient can be taken in supplement form. Some studies also found that the Myer cocktail, an injectable cocktail with B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium may also help improve asthma symptoms.
Another important antioxidant nutrient, vitamin E, has been researched in many clinical trials. A review of multiple studies found that vitamin E supplementation during pregnancy influences the risk of asthma in babies. Low consumption of vitamins E, C, and other antioxidants contribute to airway inflammation, worse asthma control, and/or lung function. Olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds, and cruciferous vegetables are good sources of vitamin E. In supplement form, vitamin E supplements that contain mixed tocopherols are a better choice than supplements with only one form of vitamin E.
It is best to consult a qualified doctor to learn more about these nutrients and their optimal dosage. In addition to omega 3s, vitamins D, C and E there are other nutrients that may help manage asthma. For example, one study concluded that deficiency of zinc and/or vitamin C is related to severe asthma and decreased lung function. Magnesium can be used in capsules or tablets as well as in nebulized form. Magnesium in iv form as an add-on therapy for acute severe asthma in the pediatric emergency department. Other studies evaluated beta carotene (vitamin A), B vitamins, and selenium. Research is still ongoing and currently, no supplements are recommended as part of the standard asthma treatment plan. However, it makes a lot of sense to correct any nutrient deficiencies. Optimize the diet first, and then consider supplements.