According to the Centers for Disease Control, asthma is a chronic inflammatory respiratory condition, affecting approximately 8% of the population in the U.S. (5) Asthma and its symptoms, such as wheezing and airflow limitation, can range from mild to severe. In some cases, asthma flare-ups may be life-threatening, making the management of asthma essential. (6)

What is asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by chronic airway inflammation and smooth muscle hyper-responsiveness. (1) A variety of changes in the airway may result in airflow limitation, such as airway edema, bronchoconstriction, and airway remodeling. (9)

Several types of asthma with various pathophysiologies have been identified, such as:

  • Allergic asthma, which often presents in childhood and is associated with a family history of allergic disease
  • Non-allergic asthma, where asthma is not due to allergy
  • Adult-onset asthma, where asthma symptoms first present during adulthood
  • Occupational asthma, which occurs as a result of exposure to allergens in the workplace
  • Asthma with persistent airflow limitation, where airflow limitation becomes persistent or irreversible
  • Asthma with obesity, where some obese patients experience airflow limitation with little inflammation (6)
Auscultation of a child’s lungs by a doctor.

Allergic asthma is associated with a family history of allergic disease and often presents in childhood.

Signs, symptoms, and complications

The airflow limitation and symptoms of asthma can vary over time. (6) Asthma signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing (6)(1)

Causes, risk factors, and triggers

While the definitive cause of asthma has not been established, risk factors may include:

  • Family history of allergic disease (e.g., allergic rhinitis, eczema)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Gender: adult-onset asthma is seen particularly in women
  • Low dietary intake or deficiency of certain nutrients (e.g., magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants)
  • Obesity (2)(7)(3)(9)

The “hygiene hypothesis” stipulates that the balance between Th1 and Th2 immune cell response plays a role in the development of asthma. Early childhood exposure to factors such as infections, exposure to other children, and less frequent use of antibiotics are said to be associated with the Th1 immune response that fights infection. An absence of these factors may be associated with a greater Th2 immune response and subsequent elevated rates of asthma. (9)

Certain environmental factors may also trigger or exacerbate symptoms, including:

  • Allergen exposure
  • Certain medications (e.g., nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, beta-blockers)
  • Exercise
  • Food additives and preservatives
  • Irritants (e.g., smoke, strong scents, car exhaust fumes)
  • Viral respiratory infections
  • Weather changes (6)(9)

Ingredients for respiratory care

An integrative treatment approach to asthma may involve administering medications and/or dietary supplements, reducing exposure to environmental triggers, and weight loss interventions for obese patients. (3)(6)

Assortment of nutrients

Magnesium is found in high amounts in foods such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, beans, spinach, and cocoa powder.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral used as a cofactor in over three hundred enzymatic reactions in the body. It is involved in energy production, nerve function, muscle contraction, and many other body processes. Research suggests that nearly two-thirds of individuals in Western countries may be magnesium deficient. Magnesium deficiency may result from taking certain medications, consuming diets high in processed foods, or cooking produce which diminishes magnesium content. (10)

Furthermore, several conditions have been associated with magnesium deficiency, including asthma, depression, and epilepsy. (1) In certain vulnerable individuals, magnesium insufficiency may be associated with severe bronchospasm experienced with asthma. (10)

Fish oil

Fish oil supplements provide eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. As asthma involves inflammatory processes, researchers have examined the anti-inflammatory effects of these fatty acids in individuals with the condition. (12) Oral supplementation of EPA and DHA may increase the omega-3 fatty acid content of cells involved in the inflammatory process, favorably influencing the production of inflammatory mediators, such as cytokines and adhesion molecules. (4) Research has also shown that polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) may reduce the prevalence of pediatric asthma. (12)

Glass bottle of fish oil and a bowl of fish oil softgels on a table.

Omega-3 supplements are commonly produced from various fish oils, including sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, and cod liver.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and water-soluble vitamin commonly found in foods such as citrus fruit (e.g., oranges, grapefruit, lemons), papayas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. (11) Some researchers have observed a correlation between disease severity and the presence of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in patients with asthma. Acting as a hydrogen donor, vitamin C may reduce oxidation in the body, a process associated with airway inflammation. Further, higher dietary vitamin C may reduce the risk of developing asthma. (8)

The bottom line

Clinical research suggests that magnesium, fish oil, and vitamin C supplementation may benefit individuals with asthma. A protocol using natural supplements can be used therapeutically on its own or as an adjunct to existing treatment. If you’re a patient, we recommend speaking with your healthcare provider to find out if supplementing with these nutrients is right for your wellness plan.

If you are a practitioner, view our respiratory care protocol.

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  1. Abuabat, F., AlAlwan, A., Masuadi, E., Murad, M. H., Jahdali, H. A., & Ferwana, M. S. (2019). The role of oral magnesium supplements for the management of stable bronchial asthma: A systematic review and meta-analysis. NPJ Primary Care Respiratory Medicine, 29(1), 4.
  2. Bijanzadeh, M., Mahesh, P. A., & Ramachandra, N. B. (2011). An understanding of the genetic basis of asthma. The Indian Journal of Medical Research, 134(2), 149–161.
  3. Boulet, L. P. (2013). Asthma and obesity. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 43(1), 8-21.
  4. Calder, P. C. (2010). Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients, 2(3), 355–374.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). FastStats – Asthma. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/asthma.htm
  6. Global Initiative for Asthma. (2019). Global strategy for asthma management and prevention. Retrieved from https://ginasthma.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/GINA-2019-main-report-June-2019-wms.pdf
  7. Kazaks, A. G., Uriu-Adams, J. Y., Albertson, T. E., Shenoy, S. F., & Stern, J. S. (2010). Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on measures of airway resistance and subjective assessment of asthma control and quality of life in men and women with mild to moderate asthma: A randomized placebo controlled trial. Journal of Asthma, 47(1), 83–92.
  8. Nadi, E., Tavakoli, F., Zeraati, F., Goodarzi, M. T., & Hashemi, S. H. (2012). Effect of vitamin C administration on leukocyte vitamin C level and severity of bronchial asthma. Acta Medica Iranica, 50(4):233-8.
  9. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2006). Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/guidelines/asthsumm.pdf NOW 9
  10. Schwalfenberg, G. K., & Genuis, S. J. (2017). The importance of magnesium in clinical healthcare. Scientifica, 2017, 4179326.
  11. USDA. (n.d.) USDA Food Composition Databases. Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/
  12. Yang, H., Xun, P., & He, K. (2013). Fish and fish oil intake in relation to risk of asthma: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one, 8(11), e80048. NOW 12