Asthma and omega-3: does it help?

Asthma isn’t a pleasant disorder to suffer from. According to the NHS, a life-threatening asthma attack happens to someone every 10 seconds. And while that might be the most serious of symptoms, the regular breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and tight-chestedness are not something that’s amenable to day to day life.

The respiratory condition affects an estimated 5.4 million people, or 1 in 11 people, in the UK and, unfortunately, it can impact negatively on the quality of life, especially if an individual experiences asthma attacks. For those with the disorder, it can restrict them from doing exercise and keeping fit. However, new studies show that there might be a solution.

What is asthma?

The disorder causes the tubes in your airways that carry air in and out of your lungs to be inflamed making them sensitive and causing individuals to react negatively to illness, exercise, and breathing itself.

When breathing, healthy airways will open, and the muscles will become relaxed, but the airways of a person living with asthma will react negatively to substances like pollen. The lungs will tighten causing the lining to swell. This can cause symptoms including:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Disrupted sleep

There are many reasons why a person might suffer from the condition including:

  • Genetics
  • If they previously had bronchiolitis
  • Exposure to smoke

The disorder is far from minor and causes three deaths per day in the UK, and although treatments exist, for example in the form of inhalers, there is no known cure. However, studies suggest that a diet that includes fish may help.

The study

In one study, scientists took a group of Greek children with asthma and split them in half. for one half they supplemented their diet with 2 150g meals of cooked fatty fish a week, the other was left as normal. The hypothesis was that fatty fish is high in omega-3 which has anti-inflammatory properties, which would reduce the inflammation of the airways, reducing the need for inhalers.

The study followed a sample of 64 children (52% male – 48% female) and found that there was a noticeable effect on those with the new diet. More specifically it found that, as hypothesised, omega-3 could potentially be a great way to reduce airway inflammation, which would obviously aid with breathing in asthmatic people. But more research is needed before we can conclusively say it’s effective.

But it’s also not the first study to find a link between omega-3 and asthma. Sources of omega-3 include vegetables, nuts, and oils. Fish like mackerel and trout have plenty of omega-3 in them, but you can also try products like cod liver oil if your diet doesn’t contain enough of it.

There will no doubt be more research on the topic, but it could be something to consider. Always talk to a professional before you make any significant changes, and don’t put down the inhaler just yet.