Can Asthma be Controlled Through Diet?

There’s a good chance that, growing up, you knew at least one school classmate with asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, over 25 million people in the United States live with this condition. While asthma is known for its impact on the lungs, recent research has found that there might be a relationship between asthma and the stomach. 

A Bad Reaction 

This particular study was conducted by a team from Germany’s University of Bonn, and published in the journal Immunity. The authors examined how a group of laboratory mice, all of whom had asthma, reacted when placed on a dietary regimen known as the ketogenic diet. 

To understand why the researchers took this route, it is helpful to review the basics of asthma and how it affects the human body. Asthmatic symptoms occur due to the presence of various asthma triggers, which include tobacco smoke, dust mites, air pollution and pet dander. As a result of these substances, the passages into the lungs (known as the bronchi) become inflamed, accompanied by other symptoms such as increased mucus production. 

It should be noted that the body’s own immune system is responsible for asthmatic reactions. Specifically, immune cells known as Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILC) are believed to play an essential role in such overzealous responses. While ILCs are highly useful in the upkeep of the lungs’ mucous membranes, in asthmatics they overreact to harmless substances. 

Food for Thought

So how does any of this relate to food? The answer has to do with how ILCs divide and spread. During an asthmatic reaction, these immune cells quickly multiply, thereby releasing many proinflammatory cytokines. For their study, the research team sought to put the breaks on this immune cell division. 

When a cell divides, it relies on fatty acids to create a new cell membrane. Armed with this information, the team then developed a plan to deprive ILCs of fatty acids. They placed their rodent subjects on a ketogenic diet, feeding them plenty of fats but very little in the way of proteins and carbohydrates.

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