Asthma in young adults and nutrient intakes of specific foods




Am J Clin Nutr

Related Monographs

Consumer Data: Asthma
Professional Data: Asthma


The most significant characteristic of asthma is a narrowing of the trachea (the "windpipe") and bronchial passages in response to some stimulus. In asthma, the airways are over-responsive. Certain things that may not cause breathing problems for most of us can provoke the airways to constrict in asthmatics. These may be external stimuli like pollen, dust, and even cold air. Or, the stimulus may be something internal, like a nutritional deficiency or emotional stress. Whatever the trigger, all asthma attacks have the same scenario in common: the airways become extremely irritated and overreact by going into spasm.1

Asthma is divided into two major types: "intrinsic" asthma and "extrinsic" asthma. Intrinsic asthma usually develops in adulthood and may begin with risk factors such as cold air, exercise, or emotional trauma. In extrinsic asthma, also called allergic or "atopic" asthma, the immune system reacts to an allergy-provoking substance such as pollen or dust by releasing histamine and other chemicals in the lungs. These potent chemicals cause smooth muscle in the air passages to secrete mucous, swell up, and narrow. The specific triggers of an asthma attack may be allergic or non-allergic.

A recent study investigated whether specific food and nutrient intake differed between asthmatic adults and those asthma-free. A total of 1601 subjects participated in this study, all answering questionnaires regarding respiration, food-frequency, and other tests. The results showed that whole milk, apples, and pears seemed to protect against asthma cases. However, consumption of soy beverages illustrated an association with asthma. The authors of this study stated that dietary modification after diagnosis of asthma may explain these results. Further tests using whole foods are required to discover if certain food intake could be favorable in the prevention of asthma.2


1. American Thoracic Society. Committee on diagnostic standards for non-tuberculosis respiratory disease: Definition and classification of chronic bronchitis, asthma, and pulmonary edema. Am Rev Resp Dis. 1962;85:762.
2. Woods RK et al. Food and nutrient intakes and asthma risk in young adults. Am J Clin Nutr. Sept 2003;78(3):414-421.