Treating Asthma with Fruits & Vegetables

Treating Asthma with Fruits & Vegetables
4.28 (85.6%) 25 votes

Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to seven servings a day appears to cut asthma exacerbation rates in half, whereas restricting consumption to Standard American Diet levels leads to a significant worsening of lung function and asthma control.

Discuss
Republish

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the international study of asthma and allergies in childhood of over a million kids, “[a] consistent inverse relationship [meaning protective relationship] was seen between prevalence rates of [asthma, allergies, and eczema] and the intake of [plants,] starch, [grains,] and vegetables. If these findings could be generalised, and if the average daily consumption of these foods increased,” researchers speculated over a decade ago that “an important decrease in symptom prevalence may be achieved.” No need to speculate any more, though; plants were finally put to the test.

Researchers had proposed that by eating less and less fruits and vegetables, this had “increased the susceptibility of the population as a whole to potentially harmful inhaled substances by reducing the antioxidant defences” within our lungs.

That makes sense; the thin lining of fluid that forms the “interface” between our lung lining and the “external environment” is our “first line of defence against oxidative damage,” which plays an important role in asthma…, “contributing to airway…contraction…, mucus,” and hypersensitivity. “Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress,” though, so our lung lining contains a range of antioxidants our body makes itself, as well as those “obtained from [our] diet, particularly from fruits and vegetables.”

In fact, we can even quantify the level of oxidative stress in people by measuring the level of oxidation products in their exhaled breath, which drops as they start eating more fruits and vegetables, then drops further when they combine more plants with less animal foods.

So, do those with asthma really have lower levels of antioxidants than people without asthma? “Compared to healthy controls, subjects with asthma had lower whole blood levels of total carotenoids,” and each of the individual phytonutrients they measured: “…cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene compared to healthy controls.”

So, “[t]he accumulating evidence [does suggest] that diet [has] an influence [on] modulating the response of the lung to inhaled allergens and irritants.” But, wait a second; “it is possible that the reduced carotenoid levels in asthma are a result of increased utilization in the presence of excess free radicals.” So, it’s like a chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. Or, in cholesterol-free vernacular, which came first—the pea, or the pod?

We know “[a]ntioxidant-rich diets have been associated with reduced asthma prevalence. However, direct evidence that altering intake of antioxidant-rich foods [actually] affects asthma [was] lacking”—until now.

There’s two ways to test the effects of fruits and vegetables on asthma. Add fruits and vegetables to people’s diets, and see if their asthma improves. Or, like they did here, take asthmatics and remove fruits and vegetables from their diets, and see if they get worse.

This was the first research group to see if “altering the intake of antioxidant-rich foods directly affects asthma outcomes. Placing subjects with asthma on a low antioxidant diet for [just a matter of] days led to a significant worsening of lung function and asthma control…This finding is highly significant for subjects with asthma, as it indicates that omitting antioxidant-rich foods from the diet, for even a short time frame, will have a detrimental effect on asthma symptoms.”

“Interestingly, [ironically,] the low antioxidant diet consumed by subjects,” where they were restricted to one serving of fruit and only up to two servings of vegetables per day, “is typical of Western diets.” In other words, the low-antioxidant diet they used to worsen people’s asthma, to cripple their lung function, was just like the Standard American Diet.

“[As about half] the population usually consume[s] a diet with an intake of fruit and vegetables equivalent to the study diet or less, it appears likely that this dietary pattern, which must be considered suboptimal for lung health, may be having a significant impact on asthma management, indicating the potential for typical Western dietary patterns to contribute to [the] worsening of lung function and asthma control.”

Within just days, cutting down fruit and vegetable intake can impair lung function. But, does adding fruits and vegetables actually help with asthma? That was the second phase of the study.

Asthmatics on the Standard American Diet in this study had about a 40% chance of relapsing into an asthma exacerbation in about three months. But, put them on seven servings of fruits and vegetables, instead of three, and you can cut their exacerbation rate in half—down to 20%, just with a few fruits and vegetables.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to Baylor Health Care System via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In the international study of asthma and allergies in childhood of over a million kids, “[a] consistent inverse relationship [meaning protective relationship] was seen between prevalence rates of [asthma, allergies, and eczema] and the intake of [plants,] starch, [grains,] and vegetables. If these findings could be generalised, and if the average daily consumption of these foods increased,” researchers speculated over a decade ago that “an important decrease in symptom prevalence may be achieved.” No need to speculate any more, though; plants were finally put to the test.

Researchers had proposed that by eating less and less fruits and vegetables, this had “increased the susceptibility of the population as a whole to potentially harmful inhaled substances by reducing the antioxidant defences” within our lungs.

That makes sense; the thin lining of fluid that forms the “interface” between our lung lining and the “external environment” is our “first line of defence against oxidative damage,” which plays an important role in asthma…, “contributing to airway…contraction…, mucus,” and hypersensitivity. “Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress,” though, so our lung lining contains a range of antioxidants our body makes itself, as well as those “obtained from [our] diet, particularly from fruits and vegetables.”

In fact, we can even quantify the level of oxidative stress in people by measuring the level of oxidation products in their exhaled breath, which drops as they start eating more fruits and vegetables, then drops further when they combine more plants with less animal foods.

So, do those with asthma really have lower levels of antioxidants than people without asthma? “Compared to healthy controls, subjects with asthma had lower whole blood levels of total carotenoids,” and each of the individual phytonutrients they measured: “…cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene compared to healthy controls.”

So, “[t]he accumulating evidence [does suggest] that diet [has] an influence [on] modulating the response of the lung to inhaled allergens and irritants.” But, wait a second; “it is possible that the reduced carotenoid levels in asthma are a result of increased utilization in the presence of excess free radicals.” So, it’s like a chicken-or-the-egg phenomenon. Or, in cholesterol-free vernacular, which came first—the pea, or the pod?

We know “[a]ntioxidant-rich diets have been associated with reduced asthma prevalence. However, direct evidence that altering intake of antioxidant-rich foods [actually] affects asthma [was] lacking”—until now.

There’s two ways to test the effects of fruits and vegetables on asthma. Add fruits and vegetables to people’s diets, and see if their asthma improves. Or, like they did here, take asthmatics and remove fruits and vegetables from their diets, and see if they get worse.

This was the first research group to see if “altering the intake of antioxidant-rich foods directly affects asthma outcomes. Placing subjects with asthma on a low antioxidant diet for [just a matter of] days led to a significant worsening of lung function and asthma control…This finding is highly significant for subjects with asthma, as it indicates that omitting antioxidant-rich foods from the diet, for even a short time frame, will have a detrimental effect on asthma symptoms.”

“Interestingly, [ironically,] the low antioxidant diet consumed by subjects,” where they were restricted to one serving of fruit and only up to two servings of vegetables per day, “is typical of Western diets.” In other words, the low-antioxidant diet they used to worsen people’s asthma, to cripple their lung function, was just like the Standard American Diet.

“[As about half] the population usually consume[s] a diet with an intake of fruit and vegetables equivalent to the study diet or less, it appears likely that this dietary pattern, which must be considered suboptimal for lung health, may be having a significant impact on asthma management, indicating the potential for typical Western dietary patterns to contribute to [the] worsening of lung function and asthma control.”

Within just days, cutting down fruit and vegetable intake can impair lung function. But, does adding fruits and vegetables actually help with asthma? That was the second phase of the study.

Asthmatics on the Standard American Diet in this study had about a 40% chance of relapsing into an asthma exacerbation in about three months. But, put them on seven servings of fruits and vegetables, instead of three, and you can cut their exacerbation rate in half—down to 20%, just with a few fruits and vegetables.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Images thanks to Baylor Health Care System via flickr

Doctor's Note

For more on that million-kid study, see Preventing Asthma with Fruits & Vegetables.

If manipulating antioxidant intake by increasing fruit and vegetable intake can so powerfully reduce asthma exacerbation rates, why not just take antioxidant pills instead? I cover that next, in Treating Asthma with Plants vs. Supplements?

And, if a few extra servings of fruits and vegetables can make that kind of difference, what about a whole diet composed of plants? I close out this four-part series with Treating Asthma & Eczema with Plant-Based Diets.

What else might antioxidant-rich diets help with? See:

How many antioxidants should we shoot for? See:

Where are antioxidants found the most? See:

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

30 responses to “Treating Asthma with Fruits & Vegetables

Comment Etiquette

On NutritionFacts.org, you'll find a vibrant community of nutrition enthusiasts, health professionals, and many knowledgeable users seeking to discover the healthiest diet to eat for themselves and their families. As always, our goal is to foster conversations that are insightful, engaging, and most of all, helpful – from the nutrition beginners to the experts in our community.

To do this we need your help, so here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

The Short List

To help maintain and foster a welcoming atmosphere in our comments, please refrain from rude comments, name-calling, and responding to posts that break the rules (see our full Community Guidelines for more details). We will remove any posts in violation of our rules when we see it, which will, unfortunately, include any nicer comments that may have been made in response.

Be respectful and help out our staff and volunteer health supporters by actively not replying to comments that are breaking the rules. Instead, please flag or report them by submitting a ticket to our help desk. NutritionFacts.org is made up of an incredible staff and many dedicated volunteers that work hard to ensure that the comments section runs smoothly and we spend a great deal of time reading comments from our community members.

Have a correction or suggestion for video or blog? Please contact us to let us know. Submitting a correction this way will result in a quicker fix than commenting on a thread with a suggestion or correction.

View the Full Community Guidelines

  1. Thanks for putting this all together. A copy of this transcript will be on all my coworkers desks on Monday as well as a copy given to every asthma patient I have (all of whom I have already told).

    I have had many asthma patients get better eating more fruits and vegetables but I also have some patients that go completely plant based and get off their asthma medication (eg. inhaled steroids, Singulair, and beta-agonist like Albuterol) altogether. It’s phenomenal to watch this as a physician because NO ONE EVER in medical school or residency told me or even hinted this could be done.

    For anyone out there reading this that has allergies or asthma, the single most important thing to stop eating or drinking is ALL dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt). Remember, the milk protein casein (Casein is in all animal milks) makes up 87% of the protein in dairy and is an enormous mucus producer which just clogs your airways making it harder to breath, thus worsening your symptoms.

    And we didn’t even get into one of the first studies to show DNA manipulation by casein to turn on the genes that promote cancer growth.

    Leave the dairy to the animal that produced it. I never saw a baby calf come up to my mothers breast and beg for a feeding. So why are we begging the cows and goats for their breast milk?

    1. Dr. HemoDynamnic: Well said! I love it when you share stories of your patient’s success. While not a scientific study, you have a bird’s eye view that individual anecdotes lack. Thanks!

      1. I am suffering from asthma.it attacks and goes its peak value during wheather changing.how can i releaf it.Tell me suitable mdicine or any herbs ,vegetable or fruits which help me to releaf asthama permanently.

        1. You should change over to a 100% whole food plant based lifestyle, and avoid any added salt or other sources of sodium. You should also follow your medical doctor’s prescription advice for asthma medication as people can die from asthma, and the medicine can save your life.

          Dr. Ben

        2. Stay away from bottled lemon juice and dried fruits with sulfer dioxide. I have asthma and if I watch what triggers my attacks I write it down to avoid it. I have also found I’m allergic to wheat.

  2. Impressive – fast and significant results. If we had a new drug cutting the exacerbation rate in half, it would cost a lot of money and probably have a lot of side effects. The side effect of fruit and vegetables: Reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension etc.

  3. Interesting. I switched to a vegan diet 2 years ago. Before that I was vegetarian for 1 month but switched to soy milk from the start. I noticed an improvement in my asthma symptoms immediately, and after 8 months stopped taking symbicort ( steroid & long acting bronchodilator). I had an exacerbation recently & had to start taking the symbicort again for a couple of weeks. The only thing that had changed was that I had starting eating peanuts again. I’ve cut them out and I’m asthma free again!

  4. If I got asthma, I would try a plant-based diet. Being already on an exclusively plant-based diet, with a heavy family and personal history of atopy, I guess I am somewhat protected. Equally important is to avoid smog, which I view as more of a geographic thing and staying indoors in A/C on really bad days.

  5. Go ORANGES! I also find several greens helpful. I make smoothies with lots of them. It also improves my fatigue. Especialy smoothies with parsley. It has a good impact on adrenal glands.

      1. Yes, that is true. In nature orange tree gives a lot of fruit for only 2-3 months, then it slows down a little. It’s not good if you eat oranges for a long time every day. But they are not just agressive on teeth. They clean the heck out of you. :) Some people use them just for fasting (they use OJ).

      1. Citrus fruits (but not for a long time, they are hard on teeth), melons, watermelon, grapes (choose red or black – with lots of flavonoides), all berries. Red, orange, purple colors indicate good cleaners.

  6. I was a life-long asthmatic on five different meds 24/7 when we decided to try a vegan diet for my husband’s pain. It worked for him and to our surprise I was able to stop all the meds! That was 1998. I am so thankful that I only need an occasional pill. I keep an inhaler on hand for incidental seafood contamination in restaurants, but that’s it! I also have far, far fewer sinus infections – usually related to something I have eaten in compromise. Not worth it! My allergies were pollens (and I live in the tropics), animal danders, diesel exhaust (we sometimes can’t even see the back of the truck or bus), chemicals, and molds.

  7. Now if only I could get my asthmatic toddler to eat more fruits and veggies. Besides hummus and smoothies, he won’t touch any whole foods. It’s a start, right?

    1. Hey Lauren! So sorry your toddler has asthma. How old is he?

      Have you heard of Juice Plus+? Its whole food (fruits & veggies) in a soft chew. My girls (3 years & 1 year) love them! They have never had a doctors appointment except well visits. I am so thankful for that!

      If you want info, check out my website :)
      http://www.alyssapetty.juiceplus.com

      1. when i was young we eat a lot of fruits and veggies in my grandfathers house. One fruit was the best : acerolla (i dont’ know if they have this tree in this country or can get it). NEVER EVER got sick my brothers and I. never missed a day of school.

      2. Juice Plus+ is another fad; Whole fruits and veggies are best. And most kids will eat sweeter foods like bananas, grapes, carrots, sweet potatoes, and corn. Plus gummies or soft chews are loaded with sugars which may cause cavities in concentrated form.

  8. Been sharing fruit and veggie concentrates for 19 years along with some incredible healthcare professionals and with the 32 independent published studies it is no wonder we have seen tremendous results in asthma and other chronic diseases. When you can flood your body with plants, great things happen. It has been a catalyst for other changes

  9. What happens if a plant based diet causes asthma? I’ve been following a plant based diet for over 20 years, still got asthma, gave up gluten too. My asthma was getting worse and worse. Finally find out I’m salicylate sensitive – now what am I supposed to eat, salicylates are in most plant food. My bloods are all good, low blood pressure and cholesterol but just can’t breath, and can’t exercise. Any advice would be appreciated as to where to get nutrients.

  10. Hello, Kerin,

    I belive you can still have a healthy diet, even if you are salicylate sensitive. But it would be best to check with your doctor. List of foods with low salicylicate content include: Banana, lime, peeled pear, cabbage, celery green split peas -dried, lentils, lettuce – iceberg, swede. peeled potatoes, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, rice, rye, wheat, nuts, tofu and many others. :)

    Have a nice day,

    Moderator Adam P.

  11. I became vegan and suddenly my asthma symptoms have disappeared. It has been almost 4 years now without any crisis. Thank you for summarize everything I’m living now. I’m so thankful for your great work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This