Help Lower Your Child’s Asthma Risk

By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (February 8, 2007)—With the alarming rise in the number of children with asthma, it will comfort parents to know that you can do something about it. A new study published in the journal Thorax shows that children who eat more fish and whole grains are less likely to suffer from the disease.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease. Environmental pollution and changes in diet might be tied to the increasing prevalence of asthma seen over the last 50 years.

An asthma attack can start after exposure to a “trigger” like cold air, exercise, allergens (such as mold, dust mites, pet dander, cockroach debris, and pollen), certain viruses, or irritants such as cigarette smoke or automobile exhaust.

While these triggers might cause mild irritation in a healthy person’s lungs, someone with asthma will have an exaggerated response: the tissues of the airways become inflamed, the muscles around them tighten, and thick mucus is released into the air passages. These events make it more difficult to breathe and cause wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.

Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are rich in antioxidant vitamins and other substances that might help decrease some of the lung inflammation caused by asthma triggers. Eating fish helps boost levels of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which also aid in controlling inflammation.

In the new study, part of International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood 2, Dutch researchers tried to uncover a relationship between diet and asthma. They asked the parents of almost 600 children, all about ten years old, detailed questions about their diet and asthma symptoms.

Children who ate the most whole grains and fish were two to three times less likely to have asthma than were children who ate the least of these foods. About 17% of children in the “lowest intake” category had asthma, compared with only 3% in the “highest intake” category.

Citrus fruits and vegetables also seemed to protect against asthma, though not as much as whole grains and fish.

So, how much of these foods should parents be feeding their children in order to protect them from asthma? In the study, about 4 ounces of whole grain products per day were needed to provide protection. The following foods contain about 1 ounce of whole grains: 1/2 cup oatmeal, 1 cup dry whole grain cereal, 1/2 cup cooked whole grain pasta or rice, and 1 slice of whole grain bread. Children who ate just 4 ounces of fish per week—which might be gotten by one small salmon steak or one can of tuna—were significantly protected against asthma.

The researchers concluded, “Our findings suggest that a high intake of whole grain products and fish may have a protective effect against asthma in children.”

(Thorax 2006;61:1048–53)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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