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Category: Science

Treating Astham with Diet and Exercise

How to Prevent and Treat Asthma Without Drugs

By: Austin Perlmutter, MD, Medical Student, Miller School of Medicine

As the top cause of pediatric hospitalizations, emergency room visits and missed school days, asthma is anything but a trivial problem for American children. Yet this issue also pushes deep into our adult population. The CDC’s data shows that 9.3% of American children and 8% of American adults live with this debilitating condition.

Research on asthma has mainly focused on how to minimize exposure to environmental irritants, and how to properly subdue the airway’s reactivity with steroids and other drugs.

This largely pharmaceutical-based research makes us better at lowering the inflammation that occurs in asthma, leading to fewer exacerbations for our patients. However, it doesn’t explain how we get asthma, or how to prevent or reverse it. Yet science has finally started to catch up. For the first time, we’re beginning to understand how important diet and lifestyle are to prevention and treatment of this condition.

Recent data shows that obese children and adults have higher rates of asthma, and that being obese may increase risk of developing asthma by up to 92%. Obesity also leads to more symptoms in people with asthma, as well need for more medication. In fact, obese asthmatics may have up to a 5-fold increase in hospitalizations compared to thinner asthmatic peers. As you might expect, losing the weight may work wonders in asthma, with a recent study finding that a loss of 5-10% of weight in obese participants significantly improved asthma control, while simultaneously improving quality of life  

The connection between asthma and obesity continues to be explored, but it appears to involve the hormones of obesity and their pro-inflammatory cascade. Molecules like TNF alpha, leptin and interleukins are elevated in obesity, and set off a series of events that seem to contribute to increased airway reactivity and remodeling found in asthmatics.

So if the latest research tells us that weight loss is key for asthma, how do we accomplish this? Of course, there are barriers. Asthmatics use steroids, which lead to weight gain. Asthmatics also tend to avoid exercise, as it exacerbates their condition. These issues are important.

The first thing to clarify is that asthma should not be reason to avoid normal activities. This way of thinking has been abandoned, and children should be treated with medication to allow them to take part in exercise as they like. Without exercise, a vicious cycle of deconditioning and sedentary lifestyle is created, leading to obesity and the very problems we were seeking to avoid. Secondly, steroids are given only for more severe versions of asthma. Using the accepted medication protocols, if we could lower need for medications with mild weight loss, steroids might not be necessary. Getting over this hump would facilitate further weight loss and lessen asthmatic symptoms.

For those asthmatics who don’t struggle with their weight, as well as those who do, there are other important breakthroughs to consider. Omega 3 rich fish oil has been shown to help elite athletes with breathing, and when it was used in asthmatics, it improved lung function, lowering TNF alpha and other inflammatory markers. Another study showed that omega 3 fatty acids also lower airway reactivity in asthmatics. Finally, a diet high in whole foods rich in anti-oxidants showed improvement in asthma exacerbations and inflammatory markers.

Asthma remains one of the most common and significant medical conditions we face today, and research on how to prevent and reverse this condition has been slow to catch up. However, the recent evidence on the important of lifestyle and nutrition in prevention and treatment of asthma is extremely encouraging. Here are the take home points:

  1. Obesity is a pro-inflammatory condition that may play a large role in the pathogenesis of asthma.
  2. Lowering your weight may help prevent asthma, as well as decreasing asthmatic hospitalizations, medications, and symptoms.
  3. Exercise should be encouraged in asthmatics, so work with your doctor to get your asthma under control first, then be as active as you want!
  4. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and high anti-oxidant foods lowers inflammation and improves lung function, as well as decreasing airway reactivity.

For more information, order your copy of Grain Brain today and join Dr. Perlmutter’s email list.

  • Skattabrain

    Nothing would trigger my asthma in the past faster than a large sandwich (lots of bread) or a plate of pasta. The only thing that would aggravate the condition as quickly would be shoveling outside in the freezing cold.

    Since being off gluten and eating a mostly paleo diet. I have reduced my medications considerably and I think if I keep the course, eliminate it forever.

    I’ll also add that my allergies have never been better. I’m seeing a lot of people suffering with allergies around me right now and if you didn’t tell me it was allergy season… I wouldn’t know it.

    The work of Dr. Perlmutter and Nora Gedgaudas is changing lives. It just pains me to think that somehow this information got by all the researchers working for drug companies… I’m convinced in many regards they have been holding back human progress to make a buck.

  • Marianne Shaver Kleminski

    I have been gluten free for years. It has helped my fatigue so much. But I have had a cough for 6 months and it came along with a sinus infection and bronchitis in that period of time. The last Dr. I saw said I have a reactive airway (like asthma?) and went on meds for it. I had bronchitis at the time. Just weaned off the inhaler and have been off antibiotics for quite some time.

    I still have a cough, tickle. Wondering what is going on.

    Also my grandson (just turned one) has been struggling pretty much since he was born. My daughter has nursed him since the beginning. She first discovered a milk allergy with him, so she stopped milk for herself. Then he was put on acid reflux meds, inhalers as he has reactive airway as well. Then his skin would not clear up. He had horrible dry skin and red circles around his eyes.

    The Dr did allergy testing and found he was moderately allergic to wheat. He has been off wheat for 4 weeks. Within the first few days his eyes cleared up, within 2 weeks his skin cleared up. He has mild developmental problems and they seem to be getting better. It is quite amazing to see this little boy change right in front of our eyes.

  • Lynn Dell

    My parents took good care of me. I had severe wheezing episodes as a child. They had me tested for food allergies and it was determined I had allergies to pollen and dust mold and I had monthly shots, which I outgrew during adolescence.

    During my 20s, I was a recreational runner and during the summer and fall I struggled with wheezing when starting out on a run. I am glad I was a long distance runner because invariably after 40 to 45 minutes of jogging I would feel immediate relief and breathing felt free, which enabled me to enjoy the last few miles of the run.

    Hence, when Dr. Perlmutter, replying to the question as to what is the most important supplement, replied with exercise being primary, his answer resonated with me for certain!

    After eating according to Grain Brain’s recommendations, any residual problems I have had with coughing, wheezing, and post viral asthma have almost completely vanished. I have not yet attained my former level of exercise yet, so I can also attest to diet being key in this matter.

  • LowCarber

    I have been a life long asthmatic and I was astounded when I started eating low carb!! Carbs increase inflammation, and when I was eating carbs, I had to use my inhaler once or twice daily. After reducing my carb intake, I hardly ever use my inhaler and I jog on a treadmill now!!

    • David Perlmutter

      Sounds like a wonderful result.

    • Debbie

      Me too! I just figured this out and I’m so glad I did. When I eat carbs at least one or twice daily I have to use my inhaler. When I don’t and I’m in Ketosis. I feel great!

  • Laura

    Does General anesthesia increase the risk of getting dimentia?

  • Kelly Hooper

    I used to suffer from asthma for over 20 years so I can very much relate to people who suffer from it. After being a long time sufferer I was actually able to cure my asthma naturally after countless hours of online research with trial & error. What worked for me is as follows:

    1. Follow every step in the full guide seen at the following link:
    healthcurenews*com/asthma (obviously change the * for a dot as it won’t let me post links here) to get to the root of the problem in a NATURAL way. This the important bit!

    3. Take up either yoga or tai chi. Not only does the exercise help with breathing but this boost serotonin production allowing a better mental state.

    Try my advice and hopefully you will get as much luck with getting rid of asthma as i did. Just stay confident as asthma does not have to get the better of you as long as you have it in you to fight it. Good luck


  • Skattabrain

    So I’ve decided to get strict with gluten, starch and sugar. Instead of trying to not have too much (if that’s even a thing, I’m starting to think they are poison in any amount) I’ve gone full bore ketogenic and I’m about 5 weeks in. Asthma has dramatically turned around. I always knew what was a trigger… But being strict keto is making we wonder if I’ll need medication at all pretty soon.

    Life changing for me!

    • Skattabrain

      Wow just realized this is an old article and I’ve commented on it before. So yeah… Over the past year I slacked off and tried to get away with pizza now and then, sugar here and there. That didn’t work. Being in keto, using the sticks and restricting carbs to 20 grams has been amazing. Being not so strict paleo is not enough.

      • David Perlmutter

        Thanks for coming back to share this update though. I appreciate being able to follow the journey of individuals like yourself who haven’t just read this material, but taken it to hear. Wishing you success on this new path, and here to support you during this time.

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