About a month ago our 5 year-old came into our room in the middle of the night. As a parent of three I know these nights are not uncommon. Thunderstorms, nightmares, and the occasional fevers and tummy aches are going to happen. So half asleep, I arose and wearily walked her back to her bedroom. I turned on her light and a surge of adrenaline filled my body when I saw the look of panic on her face. I quickly realized she was in the throes of an asthma attack. The horror in those sweet little eyes is something I will never forget. We ended up in the local emergency room, but we were soon taken to Children’s Hospital via ambulance. There was no question about whether we were staying, we just didn’t know if we would be admitted to a general floor or the pediatric intensive care unit. Thankfully, she stabilized and we got a bed on a general floor where she improved quickly. We were released about 36 hours later, thanks to the help and attention of some pretty amazing people. But it brings me to tears to thinking about the, “what-if’s,” because some kids aren’t so lucky.
The average number of deaths a year from asthma is between 3,000-4,000. And while it doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s innumerable if your child is one of its casualties. Along with lung cancer and COPD, asthma falls under the umbrella of lung disease, which is the second leading cause of death in the US after heart disease. But for this week’s post we are going to talk specifically about asthma.
Approximately 1.7 million people like my daughter are taken to the emergency room every year because of asthma. Usually beginning in childhood, asthma affects over 7 million kids, and the number of little ones diagnosed every year is growing. In his book “How Not To Die,” Dr. Michael Greger defines asthma as “an inflammatory disease characterized by recurring attacks of narrowed, swollen airways, causing shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.” And it turns out that the prevalence and the increase of asthma is strongly correlated with where you live and what you eat. Greger cites a groundbreaking study by the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood which followed more than a million children in nearly one hundred countries around the world. Researchers discovered a striking “twentyfold to sixty fold difference in the prevalence of asthma, allergies, and eczema” depending on where a person lived and what they ate. Greger said that “while air pollution and smoking rates may play a role, the most significant associations were not what was going into their lungs as much as what was going into their stomachs.”
Researchers in Sweden tested out a strictly plant-based diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants on a group of severe asthmatics that were not getting better despite the best and most advanced medical treatments. Of the twenty-four patients who stuck with the plant-based diet, 70% improved after four months, and 90% improved within one year.  Within just one year of eating healthier, all but two patients were able to drop their dose of asthma medication or get off their steroids or other drugs, all together.  Greger goes on to cite other large-scale studies showing the effects of diet on asthma and says, “The restorative powers of the human body are remarkable, but your body needs your help. By including foods that contain cancer-fighting compounds and loading up on antioxidant rich fruits and veggies, you may be able to strengthen your respiratory defenses and breathe easier.”  However, in a study of over 100,000 people in India, those who ate meat, dairy and eggs showed a significant increase in asthmatic symptoms. “Eggs, (along with soda) have been strongly associated with asthma in children.” Removing eggs and dairy from a child’s diet has shown significant improvements in lung function in as little as 8 weeks. 
But what about taking a pill loaded with vitamins? Isn’t that just as good as eating vitamin rich foods? No. A Harvard nurses study found that women who obtained high levels of vitamin E through eating whole foods (not supplements) like nuts appeared to have nearly half the risk of asthma of those who didn’t. But those who took the vitamin E supplement showed no improvement at all.
Food has always been a trigger for my daughter. When she was a baby she had severe eczema. For two years her doctor prescribed creams and other medications that helped, but it never went away until we removed dairy, eggs, and wheat. A few weeks before her attack I thought I could be a little less restrictive about her diet and give her “just a little cheese, or just a little bread” and it turned out to be a really bad idea. However, since this last attack I have been very mindful of what she eats. Because if I don’t, the inflammation that begins in her nose will eventually move to her lungs and then the cough begins. It’s tough and she gets really sad when she can’t have a slice of cheese pizza. But I hope some day, at some point, she will understand why she needs to eat her fruits and veggies and that certain foods are not worth a trip to the emergency room.