Childhood diet linked to asthma prevalence, adult diet linked to asthma severity

Asthma has skyrocketed in the U.S. – the prevalence of asthma doubled between 1986 and 2005. Obesity is known to mechanically compromise proper function of the lungs and airways and is associated with asthma-related inflammation. Increased prevalence of asthma in obese individuals has been demonstrated in several studies, and there exists a dose-response relationship such that as BMI increases, asthma risk increases. Obesity is thus an independent risk factor for asthma. It is now widely believed that the rise in childhood obesity is a causative factor for the recent rise in asthma. [1, 2]

Inhaler. Photo credit: net_efekt (Flickr)

In addition to obesity, metabolic abnormalities in children and teens, such as high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and hyperinsulinemia, regardless of body weight have now been associated with asthma. This means that even if a child is of normal BMI, the standard American diet is likely taking its toll on lung function, producing early metabolic abnormalities that may set the stage for asthma, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease. [3]

In adults who already have asthma, previous data has been inconclusive when trying to determine whether obesity affects asthma severity. However, there is a strong connection between poor nutrition and asthma, including evidence that a single high-calorie, low-nutrient meal can spark airway inflammation, which can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Asthmatic adults consuming a single high-calorie, low nutrient meal, high in animal protein and added fat (1,000 calories worth of fast food hamburgers and hash browns) showed increased airway inflammation four hours later. Researchers compared this to a 200 calorie meal, which did not increase inflammation. [4]

Obesity, resulting from the cumulative effects of years of overeating low-nutrient, high-calorie food is a risk factor for asthma. However, deleterious effects of a low-nutrient diet on lung function occur even in the short term, and can begin early in life. Collectively, these studies tell us that asthma is another disease whose major causes include poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle.

Since asthma is both a lifestyle- and inflammation-related disease, dietary changes and weight loss are effective at improving asthma symptoms. A high-nutrient diet floods the body with protective micronutrients, reduces inflammation, and promotes weight loss – allowing the body to resolve the risk factors for asthma mentioned above (obesity, high cholesterol, etc.). Dr. Fuhrman has had much success using a high-nutrient diet to treat patients with asthma – many recover completely and no longer need asthma medication. He recently conducted a survey of hundreds of nutritarians, in which 82% of respondents with asthma reported a significant improvement in their symptoms after switching to a high-nutrient diet. Here is just one example:

“Dr. Fuhrman has truly been a blessing to me and my family. My husband has lost weight as so has my 11-year-old son. My son had put on a lot of weight and has asthma, making it almost impossible to complete the running portion of a physical challenge in gym class. But a couple of weeks ago, I had tears in my eyes as he crossed the finish line without wheezing!

I have more energy and have never felt this good. I tell everyone I know about Eat To Live and Eat For Health and will continue to sing Dr. Fuhrman’s praises.





1. Sutherland, E.R., Obesity and asthma. Immunol Allergy Clin North Am, 2008. 28(3): p. 589-602, ix.
2. Canoz, M., et al., The relationship of inflammatory cytokines with asthma and obesity. Clin Invest Med, 2008. 31(6): p. E373-9.
3. Cottrell, L., et al., Metabolic Abnormalities in Children with Asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 2010.
4. High-fat meals a no-no for asthma patients, researchers find. ScienceDaily. , in American Thoracic Society 2010 International Conference. 2010: New Orleans, LA.


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Comments (3) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Amber Remington - September 27, 2010 11:07 AM

i wish my parents had had this information when i was a child, while they were ferrying me back and forth to the hospital three or four times a year. four years into my family's nutritarian adventure, and my kids are a million times more healthy than i was when i was at 6 and 9. my younger son began kindergarten a few weeks ago, and takes his lunch every day. his teacher complimented me on those lunches for being so healthy, and on the enthusiasm my son has while eating it! she even asked me to come in to do a healthy cooking demonstration for the class! i've been re-reading all the recipes in Onlyourhealth Your Child, looking for something good to make :) thank you Dr. Fuhrman for indirectly helping me defeat asthma and keep my kids healthy!

mrfreddy - September 29, 2010 7:35 AM

Like so many of the benefits of your diet that I see mentioned here, one can expect the same results from a low carb, whole foods diet that includes copious amounts of animal fat and protein. My asthma disappeared when I started low-carbing eight years ago. Just sayin.

Richard Friedel - December 19, 2010 11:34 AM

A relevant but strangely ignored or not generally known fact about asthma is that the change between weak (asthmatic) and strong (healthy) breathing is dependent on abdominal muscle tension. Slackening the muscles here causes abysmally weak and asthmatic breathing. Training the muscles, for example by “abdominal hollowing” (see Web articles) produces an antiasthmatic effect. Abdominal muscle tension plays a prominent part in Asian martial arts. I tend to breathe asthmatically after an evening meal or in pollen-laden air.
So it is fair to assume that there is a natural breathing spectrum with an asthmatic tendency at one end and Ku Fu or Karate breathing at the other end. For a few words on the Japanese version of Asian breathing see
Breathing powerfully into my lower abdomen with tensed muscles provides an effective cure for me. But then I’ve always been sceptical about medical wisdom on asthma: such a paradoxical and doctor-baffling increase in the last 40 years with modern inhalers. Respectfully, Richard Friedel

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