Asthma: Foods and Natural Treatments

As an asthma sufferer myself, I try to practice what I preach.  I hope this will help in making more informed decisions in asthma treatment.

Asthma is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes. This can result in wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and breathlessness. 

Some people are genetically prone.  But there also are many other asthma risks. Colds and virus infections, allergens, GERD can trigger asthma.  Medications, foods, and emotional anxiety also are triggers.  So can allergens at work, such as fumes, vapors, and gases (Rakel, 2012). 

Drinking too much coffee or alcohol can have the same effect. Not varying our diet can trigger asthma.  Eating foods with too much trans-fats or too little saturated fat also are risks.  As people age, they tend to have lower levels of stomach acid.  This condition can cause allergies and asthma (Hudson, 2006).  Physicians can test for allergies.  They also can test for fat and stomach acid levels.  Treatment is often geared toward asthma medications.  But, there has been little talk about dietary and lifestyle changes.  Certain foods and supplements can open up bronchial airways.  They also can make people less reactive to irritants.

So what should we eat and not eat to support health with asthma?  A good start is to avoid any foods that are not well-tolerated.  People should avoid foods with preservatives and food additives.  These include aspartame, benzoates, and yellow dye no. 5. 

Non-starchy fruits and vegetables also support lung health.  Remember the old adage of, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?”. 

Research shows that eating at least two apples a week can promote lung health.  Apples have nutrients that fight inflammation (Mateljan, 2007). 

Cold-water fish and olive oil can relieve asthma symptoms (Rakel, 2012). 

A tablespoon of flaxseed oil a day can have the same effect.  However, inflammation may worsen with flax seed oil.  This occurs if there is aspirin-sensitivity (Hudson, 2006).

What else can we eat to help with asthma?  Try apricots and papaya to help lubricate the lungs.  Chile pepper can open up the bronchial tubes.  Astragalus regularly cooked in soups and stews help to strengthen the lungs. Wild yam, onions, nuts, and seeds all help to reduce inflammation.  Since asthmatics can be sensitive to so many irritants, eat foods to support the liver.  This will help rid the body of toxins.

Cruciferous vegetables help with liver detoxification and support.  Arugula, broccoli, daikon, cabbage, turnips, radishes, bok choy, kale, and collard greens are recommended (Hudson, 2006).

Fish, legumes, pumpkin, and tomato also can alleviate asthma symptoms.  Foods containing L-tryptophan should be limited.  Its effect is to constrict the bronchial tubes.  These include wild game, turkey, chicken, duck, and wheat germ (Hudson, 2006). 

Sugar and salt appear to contribute to asthma symptoms.  Their intake should be minimized.   Chocolate, coffee, tea, citrus fruits, and wheat are allergenic.  All of them can contribute to asthma risk.  Yeast-containing foods such tofu, vinegars, and sauerkraut can  trigger asthma (Bartholomy, 2011).  The most common allergens are eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, and peanuts. Delayed sensitivities also can occur.  They are often associated with milk, chocolate, wheat, citrus, and food colorings (Murray, 2000).  All of these foods are potential asthma triggers (Bartholomy, 2011).  Certain spices can help to open up the bronchial airways.  These include rosemary, sage, oregano, and peppermint.  Tumeric and ginger also may play a role in reducing asthma symptoms (Mateljan, 2007).

Along with nutrition, mild to moderate exercise is recommended with asthma. Chlorine and mold from swimming pools can increase symptoms.  Breathing exercises can help to increase carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood.  Carbon dioxide can help to open up the bronchial tubes. Several studies have reported increased lung function from yoga (Rakel, 2012).

Another approach to consider for relieving asthma symptoms is massage.  Chiropractic also can improve lung capacity.  Relaxation of the neck muscles may improve breathing capacity.  Hypnosis and guided imagery can be helpful.  Chinese medicine and homeopathy also can be helpful.  Sometimes just talking about the asthma experience can help improve symptoms.  It also can lessen their frequency (Rakel, 2012).

It also is worth researching botanical approaches to treating asthma.  This should always be done under the supervision of a physician.  Boswellia (300 mg three times daily) and  Pycnogenol (30-100 mg daily) can help reduce inflammation. Coleus (50 mg two-three times daily) and licorice in extract form can be helpful as well.  Licorice, however, is not recommended on a long-term basis (Rakel, 2012). 

Vitamins known to reduce asthma symptoms include Vitamin C (250 – 500 mg once or twice a day).  It can reduce inflammation and open up airways.  

Vitamin D3 (600 mg daily) can decrease airway reactivity.  This makes people are less sensitive to irritants.

Vitamin B6 (50-100 mg daily) and Vitamin E (400 mg daily of mixed tocopherols), has been found to be helpful with asthma. Magnesium (200-400 mg daily of magnesium gluconate or glycinate) can help to open up airways. 

Fish oil (500 mg capsule two to three times daily) also can help to reduce inflammation (Rakel, 2012).

June Rousso, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in New York City. She is a graduate of the New School for Social Research and is currently studying holistic nutrition at Hawthorn University.



Bartholomy, P. Clinical Nutrition and the Immune System, Hawthorn Lecture Series, 2011. Hudson, N. The Epidemic of Asthma. Presented by Nori M. Hudson, NC, March 14, 2006.

Mateljan, G. the world’s healthiest foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating. George Mateljan Foundation. Seattle, Washington, 2007.

Meletis, C. & Wilkes, K. Seasonal Allergies and Asthma: Removing Total Burden for Powerful Symptom Relief and Whole Body Wellness. Townsend Letter, May 2014.

Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine (Third Edition). Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc., Philadelphia, PA., 2012.