Daily Nutrients in the Treatment of Asthma – Part 2

Part I described the properties of Vitamins A, C, D and E and the research based conclusions as to in their use in the treatment of asthma. This installment reviews the other dietary nutrients.


  • is essential for health and life
  • is an anti-inflammatory
  • regulates release of histamine
  • regulates immune responses
  • is essential for T lymphocyte development
  • relaxes smooth muscle
  • causes bronchoconstriction at low levels
  • is for intravenous use in emergency room for FEV1 < 50% predicted

Research-based conclusion: Beneficial. Patients with acute asthma tend to have lower serum levels of magnesium than individuals without asthma. While intravenous magnesium is recommended in acute exacerbations, it has been found to improve lung function slightly in adults and significantly in children.6 Research supports the use of nebulized magnesium at a “dose of 151 mg given three times in the first hour of treatment as an adjuvant to standard treatment when a child presents with an acute episode of severe asthma.” 7 A placebo-controlled trial of the use of oral magnesium supplements, at a dose of 170 mg twice a day, showed improvement to both objective and subjective measure of pulmonary function as well as quality of life.8


  • is toxic at very high levels
  • may be fatal at low levels
  • is an essential micro nutrient
  • is a potent antioxidant
  • activates, proliferates and differentiates cells
  • is active in immunity and immunoregulation
  • is required for optimal immune cell functioning
  • is essential in trace amounts

Research-based conclusion: There are concerns about safety in long-term use. A recent study involving children with asthma and healthy controls found that nutritional supplements of vitamin E and selenium improved plasma levels in asthmatics – (particularly FeNO levels) but not controls.12 The second study on murine mast cells showed that selenium in the form of sodium selenite had a beneficial effect in reducing mediator release.13 Current available evidence does not provide adequate information as to the dosage of selenium that could be beneficial in both asthma and allergy. At the moment, selenium supplementation is not recommended.

Sodium Chloride14-18

  • increases airway reactivity and resistance
  • increases BHR
  • in a high-salt diet, exacerbates post- exercise pulmonary function, while low-salt diet improves post pulmonary function in individuals with Exercise Induced Asthma (EIA)
  • in a low sodium diet, decreases bronchoconstriction in EIA
  • in a low sodium diet, may improve lung function in adults with asthma

Research-based conclusion: There is a weak association between intake of salt and increased airway responsiveness.19 A Cochrane data base review did not find any evidence that a reduction in dietary sodium chloride significantly improved asthma control, though the study did reiterate that salt reduction in EIA was beneficial.20


  • is an essential bio-element and micro nutrient
  • helps regulate immune responses to antigens
  • deficiency of zinc promotes cancer and airway inflammation
  • is a potent antioxidant
  • is essential for cellular function in immune response
  • has immune modulating effect
  • is anti-inflammatory
  • levels are lower in individuals with asthma
  • levels correspond with asthma severity but not control
  • deficiency promotes proliferation of Th2 cells at the expense of Th1

Research-based conclusion: Beneficial. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial involving 144 children with asthma and 140 controls found that the addition of a zinc supplement resulted in significant improvements in pulmonary function measures as well as clinical symptoms.26

Saturated fats27-29

  • lowest intake gives 10-fold protection against BHR
  • increased intake associated with increased risk of asthma
  • high intake level activates immune response

Research-based conclusion: Lower intake is beneficial.

N-3 fatty acids30-33

  • reduces production of inflammatory mediators
  • is an anti-inflammatory
  • influences inflammatory cells responses
  • helps maintain membrane function
  • plays a role in immunity

Research-based conclusion: Supplements may be beneficial.

Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids33-36

  • is an essential nutrient
  • is obtained only from diet
  • has an anti-inflammatory effect
  • has a protective effect
  • are beneficial as dietary supplements provided in a controlled environment with a controlled diet

Research-based conclusion: Supplements may be beneficial.

N-6 fatty acid and trans-fatty acids37,38

  • are potentially harmful
  • consumption associated with chronic diseases
  • may be associated with development of asthma and allergies in children

Research-based conclusion: Not beneficial


  • Currently, there is no data that recommends nutritional supplements for the treatment of asthma.39
  • The Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II) noted that while the data suggested that various dietary constituents may “influence the occurrence of respiratory symptoms in adults”, there was insufficient evidence for the use of vitamin A and C supplements in the treatment of asthma and exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.40
  • A recent Cochrane Data Base Review had similar findings.41
  • Further, none of the vitamins or nutrients such as folate, omega-3 and omega-6, or polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to be consistently related to either atopy or asthma.42

Until such time as research can advocate through clinical studies that provide clear evidence for the use of specific nutrients to help control asthma, the best advice to be given to patients with asthma is that they should follow the Mediterranean diet – one that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts and low in animal fat.



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