Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways that periodically causes difficulty in breathing. Asthma is very common in Australia and New Zealand and is becoming more prevalent. Children are particularly susceptible to asthma.

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • Coughing and tightness of the chest
  • Exhalation of air from the lungs becomes difficult
  • During an asthma attack sufferers (especially children) may become frightened or panic - unfortunately this Stress may add to the breathing difficulties
  • The airways may be hyper-sensitive to cold, pollution and inhaled substances (e.g. pollen) and become inflamed and swollen more easily than those of non-asthmatics


  • The characteristic symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath occur because the bronchial tubes go into spasm, and the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract become inflamed, narrowing the airways
  • Asthma may be triggered or aggravated by respiratory infections such as colds and flu
  • Other triggers include allergies to foods (e.g. egg, fish, shellfish, peanuts and other nuts, food colouring, chocolate, citrus, wheat) or inhaled substances (e.g. feathers, pollen, dust, mould, animal hair, air pollution, fly sprays, paint fumes)
  • Exercise can also trigger asthma, even in some people who don't experience it under any other circumstances. This is more likely to occur when exercising outdoors in cold temperatures. Breathing through the mouth when exercising can trigger or exacerbate the problem, because inhaled air is still cold and dry when it reaches the lungs (whereas breathing through the nose raises the temperature of the air and has a humidifying effect).

Nutritional & Herbal Support

  • Talk to your doctor about an asthma action plan that's specially tailored to your individual needs. Natural therapies may complement your treatment, but are not intended to replace it
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the airways. Population studies suggest that people who eat fish experience less asthma, and this supports the use of fish oil supplements by asthmatics. Omega-3s are needed in large quantities to be effective, so many people find it beneficial to take fish oil capsules in addition to including several serves of oily fish in their diets every week. For children, choose a supplement that provides concentrated omega-3s in an easy-to-swallow format, such as a chewable capsule that's flavoured to hide fishy tastes. An appropriate dose for children over 2 years is 150-300 mg EPA and 100-200 mg DHA per day
  • Asthmatics have higher requirements than other people for vitamin C. Vitamin C reduces histamine levels. The anti-asthmatic effects of vitamin C may also be due to its important functions as an antioxidant. Taking high doses of vitamin C over the long term may be beneficial for all asthmatics, including those who only experience exercise-induced asthma
  • Bioflavonoids enhance the absorption and utilisation of vitamin C, and also have anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine properties of their own
  • Asthmatics may also need higher levels of selenium than other people
  • Vitamin A is important for the healthy functioning of the respiratory mucous membranes. Cod and halibut liver oils are naturally rich sources of vitamin A, and also contain vitamin D (low levels of which may be associated with asthma severity)
  • Magnesium is used to relieve a wide range of spasmodic conditions, and taking magnesium supplements may be beneficial for asthmatics

Diet & Lifestyle advice

  • Cigarette smoke can trigger asthma, promote inflammation and lead to an accumulation of toxic material in the lungs. It is particularly important that children who suffer from asthma are not exposed to cigarette smoke. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk that your baby will develop asthma in childhood
  • Breastfeeding helps protect children from asthma, and appears to reduce asthma risk even when there is a family history of the condition
  • Many natural therapists encourage those who suffer from asthma to avoid dairy products, believing that they encourage the airways to produce mucus. Even though this advice is controversial, it's worthwhile trying; many sufferers report that avoiding dairy foods helps manage their symptoms. However, note that if asthma improves when dairy is avoided, symptoms may be much more severe if dairy products are reintroduced into the diet - especially if the patient is a child. This investigation should only be performed under professional supervision
  • Get regular exercise to help maintain and improve your lung function, taking preventative medication beforehand if advised to do so by your doctor. If you suffer from exercise-induced asthma, take the time you need to warm up at the start of your training session, and avoid exercising outdoors in cold weather or in heavily polluted environments
  • Include plenty of fish and antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables in your diet, avoiding any foods that you are allergic to, or that seem to exacerbate your symptoms
  • Ensure your diet contains generous helpings of fresh foods that are rich in vitamin C and flavonoids, including citrus fruit, berries, and onions
  • Keep your house and bedding clean and free of dust, pet hair and other allergens. You may need to take extra care on days that are windy or have high pollen or pollution counts
  • Aspirin and some other medications can trigger asthma for some people. Talk to your doctor about alternatives

If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. Information provided is of a general nature and should not replace that of your healthcare professional.

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