Asthma is a common lung condition defined by chronic inflammation of respiratory (breathing) tubes, tightening of surrounding respiratory smooth muscle causing lung tubes “spasm”, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. According to the World Health Organisation, asthma affects 235 million people worldwide.
There are two major categories of asthma: allergic and non-allergic. And in many cases asthma can be well controlled by avoiding the triggering factors and by optimising our lifestyle.
Fruits and vegetables
Your first line of defence against oxidative stress is the thin lining of fluid that makes up the interface between your lung lining and the external environment. Oxidative stress is the imbalance between the production of free radicals and your body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects by neutralising them with antioxidants. Your lungs have a range of antioxidants that your body produces itself and those you get from your diet, particularly fruits and vegetables. Therefore consuming fruits and vegetables can help prevent and treat asthma. Studies conducted to examine if changing intake of foods rich in antioxidants had a direct impact on asthma outcomes, showed that subjects placed on a low antioxidant diet for just a matter of days experienced significant worsening of lung function and lung control. It is important to note that this low antioxidant diet, which was limited to one serving of fruit and only up to servings of vegetables every day is the typical Western diet. Asthmatics who followed this diet in this study had approximately 40% chance of relapsing into an asthma exacerbation in about three months. However, consuming seven servings of fruits and vegetables cut this rate down by 20%.
In the 1960s and 1970s, childhood asthma rates in developed countries were between 2% and 5%. In developing countries, on the other hand, the rates were as low as 0.007%. However when children moved from a low-risk area to a high-risk area, their risk increased. This means that we cannot blame our genes for 500 times higher rate of asthma in developed countries but our lifestyle. It turned out that one factor that contributed to the huge increase in Asthma rates is salt intake. Research has shown that reducing the amount of salt in your diet can significantly help control asthma attacks and decrease the severity of its symptoms. In conducted studies, people who suffered with asthma and consumed three teaspoons worth of salt a day had much worse lung function and symptoms than those who consumed less than one.
Allergies and Hay Fever
The job of your immune system is to fight germs or cancer cells. An allergy is an exaggerated response of your immune system to substances, that under normal circumstances are not harmful and they should not trigger immune response. Common allergens include dust mites, pollen, insect stings, mould spores, medication, and foods such as; eggs, fish, casein – cow milk protein, nuts, shellfish, wheat, and pollen.
In medicine, we categorise allergies reactions as mild, moderate or severe. Mild symptoms include rash and localised itching; moderate symptoms include difficulty breathing and widespread itching; and severe symptoms abdominal pain, itching of eyes or face, vomiting, confusion, dizziness or even anaphylactic shock. Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction and this is why we all should be able to recognise it in case we become the patient or we witness someone else having an anaphylactic reaction.
According to Medical textbook and National Health Services website, Anaphylaxis usually develops suddenly and gets worse very quickly.
The symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:
- Feeling light-headed or faint
- Breathing difficulties such as fast, shallow breathing
- Palpitations – a fast heartbeat
- Clammy skin
- Anxiety and confusion
- Collapsing or losing consciousness
However, the most common picture of an allergic type of response is of mild chronic inflammation that makes us feel tired, contributes to weight gain, viral and bacterial infections, and expresses in general a lack of energy and well-being, rather than one specific problem. Most commonly, the triggers for this type of low grade allergic/inflammatory responses are the foods we eat. For example, studies have shown that 75% of the world’s population has lactose intolerance, and there is a significant number of people who are also allergic to casein – cow’s milk protein, which has been linked to the development of multiple autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes. Food allergy is also responsible for most of Irritable Bowel Syndromes, causing gut inflammation and increasing the risk of bowel cancer. Having low grade of inflammation for years caused by persistently overstimulated allergic type of reaction increases our risk of developing more allergies, hay fever, lungs hypersensitivities and many other health problems.
Hay fever or allergic rhinitis, which is an allergic response to airborne substances such as pollen, is probably the best known allergy. It causes you to have cold-like symptoms, such as congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose, sinus pressure, and sneezing. Many of us are also familiar with skin rashes which are often triggered by medication, skin care products, cleaning products, and so on. And most of us treat our allergies with over-the-counter and prescription medications such as antihistamines or steroids. However, not everyone takes the most important step towards symptoms relief, lifestyle changes, especially in terms of your diet.
We always talk about how a plant-based diet can help to prevent and to treat a host of medical problems, and allergy is one of them. Allergy is a form of generalised or localised inflammation. Plants having a multitude of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals should therefore be extremely helpful in treating and preventing allergic reactions. And yes, science backs that up.
The longest running study on vegetarians in history suggests that women who consume meat are 30% more likely to report chemical allergies, 24% more asthma, drug allergies, and bee-sting allergies, and 15% more hay fever. By removing the dairy products and eggs, which belong to the top five most allergenic foods on earth, these number would look even better.
Moreover, here are examples of plant-based foods that can help treat allergies naturally.
This spice commonly found in Indian cuisine has curcumin, which is known for its great anti-inflammatory properties. It can help reduce allergy symptoms, prevent colds, and it also act as a decongestant.
Stinging Nettle & Green Tea
Stinging nettle is known for its positive effect on a wide range of medical problems, such as urinary problems, insect fever, and hay fever. Research suggests that stinging nettle leaf can control histamine. Before hay fever season begins, taking a freeze-dried preparation helps. Or, you can have it in the form of tea. Green tea has very similar properties and it should be consumed daily as it treats many health problems, hay fever being only one of them.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits such as grapefruit, apples, and cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and sprouts, contain quercetin, which is a flavonoid (plant pigment) that acts like a natural antihistamine, preventing allergic reactions.
Kimchi and pickles are examples of probiotic foods. Probiotics are known for being food for your digestion, but do you know that they can help treat allergies, too? Research suggests that probiotics can reduce nasal congestion in individuals suffering from seasonal allergies. One of many studies on this subject, supported by Canadian Institute of Health Research has shown that probiotics may have an important role in the prevention and treatment of allergic rhinitis. The clinical benefit of probiotic therapy depends on numerous factors, such as type of bacterium, route of administration, dosing, and regimen.
The adaptation of a healthy lifestyle is certainly not a quick fix, which tablets can provide. However, it is for sure a life-transforming cure and the only true solution to most of our health problems, including allergies.
- Jiang, Lan; Diaz, Philip T.; Best, Thomas M.; Stimpfl, Julia N.; He, Feng; Zuo, Li. “Molecular characterization of redox mechanisms in allergic asthma”. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. 113 (2): 137–142. doi:10.1016/j.anai.2014.05.030.
- “Asthma”. World Health Organization. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved 2016-03-29.