Can a healthy diet help you breathe easier? Some research says…yes. But there are also a lot of unproven dietary strategies touted help manage allergies and asthma. What works? What doesn’t? Find out here. (Of course, if you have allergies or asthma, you should always follow the advice of your health-care provider.)
—Kerri-Ann Jennings, M.S., R.D. Associate Nutrition Editor for EatingWell Magazine
Eating fruit could lower your risk of asthma, according to Dutch researchers who tracked the asthma symptoms and diets of children from birth through eight years of age. They found those who ate more fruit throughout their childhood had lower rates of asthma. Researchers think the antioxidants in fruits and veggies could protect airways from damage, possibly reducing risk of asthma, which afflicts more than 8 percent of Americans. Other research has specifically found that apples, bananas and vitamin-C-rich fruits, such as citrus, may lower asthma risk.
The theory is this: Honeybees gather pollen from the very plants that cause your itchy eyes, so consuming a small daily dose of the local honey—and subsequently these pollens—may stimulate your immune system and reduce allergies, explains Miguel P. Wolbert, an allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Care Center in Evansville, Indiana. But the pollens that cause sneezing and congestion—such as ragweed—are windborne, while the pollens bees collect are too heavy to fly in the breeze. Windborne pollens can fall onto flowers, get picked up by bees and end up in honey, says Wolbert, “but it’s likely to be a very, very small amount.” Not enough to make a difference. And, so far, no clinical evidence shows that honey alleviates allergy symptoms. Bottom line: It’s not likely that honey will help your allergies, says Wolbert, but, “I don’t tell my patients not to eat it.”
It’s still too early to tell if raw milk lives up to its purported benefits in the realm of relieving allergy and asthma symptoms, but there are real risks to consuming raw-milk products. According to the Centers for Disease Control, raw-milk-related pathogen outbreaks accounted for more than 1,000 illnesses, more than 100 hospitalizations and two deaths between 1998 and 2005. Catherine W. Donnelly, Ph.D., a food microbiologist at the University of Vermont, believes the dangers cancel out any potential nutritional benefits. “Of particular concern is Listeria [a bacterium that results in a foodborne illness, listeriosis], which has a 30 percent mortality rate,” Donnelly warns. “If raw milk is your choice, it’s buyer beware.”
Since the 1930s, research has linked a high-salt diet with worsened asthma symptoms in children. More recently, promising research indicates that following a low-sodium diet may lessen asthmatic symptoms in people with exercise-induced asthma. A 2010 review article on the topic, published in the journal The Physician and Sports Medicine, concluded that, since a low-sodium diet has other health benefits (namely those related to heart health), it may be considered a therapeutic option that might complement, but not replace, medication to manage asthma. One easy way to cut back: avoid processed/packaged foods, which tend to deliver big hits of sodium.