The benefits of a plant-based diet might be able to help manage asthma, which can be key for those with the condition that are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, according to authors of a new clinical review.
People of all ages with underlying medical conditions are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One of those underlying conditions is moderate to severe asthma.
According to Dr. Hana Kahleova, the director of clinical research for the Physicians Committee, people with asthma are six times as likely to die from coronavirus than someone with no underlying condition.
As a result, people with asthma must take all precautions available to protect themselves from the virus, including practicing social distancing, washing their hands frequently, and avoiding touching their face. Now people with asthma can use their diet to fight the virus, too.
A plant-based diet could help manage asthma
The high antioxidant, flavonoid and fiber intake associated with a plant-based diet may help manage asthma, according to the review. In other words, diets that emphasize fruit, vegetables, grains reduce the risk for asthma and may even improve asthma control.
In one study done, asthma patients consumed a plant-based diet for eight weeks and experienced a greater reduction in use of asthma medication and less severe, as well as less frequent, symptoms compared with those in a control group, according to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.
In another study, asthma patients ate a plant-based diet for a year and saw improvements in the volume of air they were able to expel, as well as other measures.
Eating fruits and vegetables could be especially beneficial in regards to managing asthma as high consumption of those foods is linked to a decreased risk for asthma in children and adults. The nutritious foods have also been shown to improve lung function and make asthma symptoms, including wheezing, more manageable.
Other foods could be harmful for those with asthma
According to the review, dairy products and foods high in saturated fat can raise the risk for asthma and worsen symptoms.
A 2015 study found that children who consume the most dairy had higher odds of developing asthma, compared to children who consume the least.
Another study separated children with asthma into two groups: one in which they made no dietary changes and one where they eliminated dairy and eggs for eight weeks. The group that eliminated dairy experienced a 22% improvement in peak expiratory flow rate, which is a measure of how fast they are able to exhale.
In asthma patients, consumption of saturated fat, a high fat intake, and low fiber intake has also been associated with airway inflammation and worsened lung function. Saturated fats are found in dairy products, red and processed meats, butter, and certain oils. One study asked participants with asthma to reduce their saturated fat intake for 10 weeks and found that at the end of the trial participants experienced reduced inflammation.
Eating plant-based is not a cure-all
“You still have to do everything else,” said Neal Barnard, coauthor of the review. “You still have to wash your hands and maintain the appropriate public health measures but plug in the nutrition part of it and all the evidence that we have today says this is a good idea.”