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Table of Contents > Articles > Does Food Play a Role in Asthma?
Does Food Play a Role in Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects approximately 7.6 million adults and 4.8 million children in this country. Asthma sufferers experience breathing difficulties, coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness as their lungs react to certain substances in their environment or to health conditions such as the common cold. Although most asthma can be controlled with medicine, it remains a serious public health concern: as 5,000 people in the United States die from asthma each year. As asthma becomes more prevalent and the death toll increases, some research dollars have been spent examining the relationship between food and asthma.

It is well known that asthma can be triggered by cold air, tobacco smoke, perfume, dust, and mold. But food? Yes; allergies to food such as milk, eggs, soy, wheat products, nuts, shellfish, and fish can cause asthma, especially in children. Children are especially susceptible to milk, eggs, and peanuts.

A key part of controlling asthma is determining asthma triggers and eliminating or avoiding them if possible. If you or your child suffer from asthma, visit a doctor for a complete diagnosis. Your doctor may suggest a food allergy test or an elimination diet. An elimination diet involves consuming food free from all suspected allergens for two weeks, then re-introducing one food every three days. You will be asked to note any reactions such as gastrointestinal upset, mood changes, headaches, or worsening asthma. Your doctor may also recommend eliminating milk and milk products, which increase mucus in the respiratory passages.

While it is wise to avoid your specific food-related asthma triggers, some research (although not too much has been done in this area) has shown that outside of a specific allergy, avoiding certain nutrients or increasing intake of others is not an effective treatment for asthma. Of the several nutrients that have been studied recently, vitamin C holds the most promise, because it seems to improve lung function. Some evidence indicates that increased salt intake may make asthma worse; however, the evidence is not strong enough to recommend a low-salt diet for people with asthma. Magnesium may have some short-term benefits for acute attacks but not for long-term control of asthma.

Although research is lacking, some alternative diets, such as vegetarianism, macrobiotics, or eliminating sugar, may help prevent asthma. Whatever you try, asthma is a serious condition and you should be sure to work closely with your doctor in controlling it.


Acute: refers to an illness that starts suddenly with intense symptoms and that does not last long

Allergens: substances that bring about an allergic reaction

Chronic: refers to an illness or disease that develops slowly and is persistent (often lifelong)

Macrobiotics: an extremely restrictive diet, based in Oriental philosophy, consisting mostly of whole grain foods

Magnesium: an important mineral in the body, especially for heart, muscle, and kidney function

Suggested Resources

Dr. Tom Plaut's Asthma Guide for People of All Ages by , M.D. with Teresa B. Jones, M.A. (Pedipress 1998)

One Minute Asthma: What You Need to Know by , M.D.(Pedipress 1998)

Natural Relief for Your Child's Asthma: A Guide to Controlling Symptoms and Reducing Your Child's Dependency on Drugs by Steven J. Bock, Kenneth Bock, Nancy Pauline Bruning (Harper Collins 1999)

The American Lung Association Family Guide to Asthma and Allergies by the American Lung Association Advisory Group (Little Brown & Co. 1998)


American Lung Association Web site archive. "Study Indicates Food Allegies May Be a Factor In Some Children's Asthma," February 15, 1996. Available at

American Lung Association Web site, general information on asthma. Available at:

American Medical Association Web site. The Asthma Information Center: "Primer on Allergic and Immunologic Diseases—Fourth Edition." Available at

Monteleone CA, Sherman AR. Nutrition and asthma. Arch Intern Med. 1997, 157:23-24.

Review Date: December 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

Food Allergy
Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
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