It is well known that New Zealand has astonishingly high numbers of people with asthma. Worldwide we are second only to the United Kingdom in the prevalence of asthma, which is not a silver medal to be celebrated. While it is unclear why our rates are so high, they are only getting higher, as they are also in other countries. The Asthma Foundation of NZ suggests some possible causes could be diet, climate, infant antibiotic use, and infant respiratory infections.
Asthma is a sensitivity of the airways in the lungs, and when triggered leads to spasm and constriction of the airways and difficulty breathing. This can vary from mild discomfort to severe, as in the case of an asthma attack requiring hospitalisation.
The seriousness of asthma means it must always be properly managed and monitored. Part of good management is understanding and identifying your individual triggers. Triggers can come in the form of exercise, cold air, stress, pollution, or from reactions to specific foods, pollens, pet hair or dust. Sometimes triggers are mixed, and people can have more than one trigger, or the triggers can change depending on other factors.
Some of the individual triggers can be difficult to detect, especially when they are foods or food additives. Many food additives have been shown to trigger breathing difficulties in sensitive people. These include preservatives such as sulphites and benzoates, and colourings such as tartrazine. Because of the complexity of our modern diets, and the vast array of E numbers or additives in our foods, it can be incredibly useful to isolate any specific substances that may be causing problems.
Food additives are not the only potential culprit however, and many clients report better breathing (and less reactivity) when they are eating the foods that agree with them most optimally.
Nutrient levels in the body can also play a significant role in respiratory health. Omega 3 fatty acids for example support a reduction in inflammation and reactivity, while magnesium helps to reduce spasm and supports relaxation of muscular tissue, including the bronchi, the airways in the lungs. Other nutrients of importance are Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and bioflavanoids, however other minerals such as zinc and selenium are also essential for optimal immune function.
An optimal diet and nutritional programme, tailored to an individual’s needs and sensitivities, can support healthy breathing in people of all ages and be part of a managed approach to improving long term respiratory health.