Eating food and how it affects our health is a complex topic. One thing that researchers are trying to better understand is if certain foods can help reduce asthma flares, which happen when the airways in one’s lungs become swollen and inflamed. Currently, we do not know enough about the connection between food and asthma, so the American Lung Association is supporting interesting research to learn more.  

One such project the Lung Association is currently funding, “Determining Influence of Plant-Based Diet on Asthma and Response to Air Pollution,” is led by Jing Gennie Wang, MD. Dr. Wang is a clinical pulmonologist and pulmonary researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, who is dedicating her career to studying the relationship between factors that can be changed, such as dietary habits and the environment, and their influence on asthma control. “My patients frequently ask me if they should eat a specific diet or if certain foods may affect their asthma, which prompted me to dig into the existing data. Surprisingly, there isn’t strong evidence linking diet with asthma health and I particularly wanted to learn if diet may modify the effects of air pollution on asthma,” she explained.   

The Air We Breathe

Dr. Wang and her team of researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study cohorts of more than 10,000 women with asthma, involving the collection of information through questionnaires over the span of several decades that included dietary and outdoor air pollution details. “We decided to focus on women who have asthma because they tend to bear a greater burden of disease and are more likely than men to have uncontrolled symptoms,” continued Dr. Wang, a recipient of the Lung Association’s 2022-2023 ACRC Early Career Investigator Award.  

Analyses so far have confirmed a significant relationship between long-term exposure to outdoor fine particulate matter (a type of air pollutant) and asthma flares. Specifically, higher exposure to fine particulate matter over a 48-month time period noticeably increased the risk of having an asthma flare. “While we are exploring how the harmful effects of outdoor air pollution on asthma might be altered by dietary habits, it remains important to prioritize clean air policies and efforts at a national and global level to reduce air pollution as a means of improving respiratory health and reducing asthma flares,” added Dr. Wang.  

The Food We Eat

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that eating a diet based on plants did not have a significant protective effect on asthma flares. They also discovered that following a plant-based diet did not seem to change the impact of fine particulate matter on asthma flares. In other words, eating a plant-based diet did not appear to make asthma better or worse, and it did not seem to make a difference in how air pollution affects asthma. 

However, not all plant-based diets are equal. Dr. Wang and her team are now seeking to investigate if the quality of a plant-based diet may be associated with asthma. According to Dr. Wang, “We need to figure out what kinds of plant-based diets may affect asthma and in which ways. Will eating more nutritious plant-based foods protect against fine particulate matter and its impact on asthma flares?”

So, for now, whether the air we breathe and the food we eat interact to influence asthma control is still unknown. The next steps in this research involve using data-driven methods like advanced statistics or machine learning to find specific eating patterns that may affect how air pollution impacts asthma. Researchers will look at various eating habits, including plant-based and other foods. The goal is to gather information that can be used to create new ways to promote healthy eating habits that improve lung health (asthma), especially for women. From what is learned through this research, the goal is to establish future actions that help support healthy lungs through healthy eating.

For more information about asthma and the Lung Association’s Research Institute, visit: Lung.org/asthma and Lung.org/research. People who have asthma, as well as their caregivers, are also welcome to call our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

Living with an Interstitial Lung Disease
, | Oct 24, 2023
Asthma Basics Workshop - National
, | Nov 09, 2023