Dietary influences on chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma: a review of the epidemiological evidence

Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 May;58(2):309-19. doi: 10.1017/s0029665199000427.


The epidemiological evidence for a relationship between diet and indicators of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is evaluated. The review focuses on the intake of Na, n-3 fatty acids, and antioxidant vitamins as well as fruit and vegetables. Experimental studies suggest that a high-Na diet has a small adverse effect on airway reactivity in asthma patients. However, observational studies provide no clear evidence that high Na intake has adverse effects on airway reactivity or asthma symptoms in open populations. n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are present in fish oils, are metabolized into less broncho-constricting and inflammatory mediators than n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Studies in the general adult population suggest that a high fish intake has a beneficial effect on lung function, but the relationship with respiratory symptoms and clinically-manifest asthma or COPD is less evident. Also, experimental studies in asthma patients have not demonstrated an improvement in asthma severity after supplementations with fish oil. Several studies showed a beneficial association between fruit and vegetable intake and lung function, but the relationship with respiratory symptoms and the clinically-manifest disease was less convincing. A similar pattern was found for vitamin C in relation to indicators of asthma and COPD, but there are still conflicting results with respect to vitamin E and beta-carotene. In conclusion, the epidemiological evidence for a beneficial effect on indicators of asthma and COPD of eating fish, fruit and vegetables is increasing. However, the effectiveness of dietary supplementation in open-population samples is often not demonstrated. Several unresolved questions are raised, which should be addressed in future studies on the relationship between diet and respiratory disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Asthma / epidemiology*
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fruit
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Sodium, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Sodium, Dietary / adverse effects
  • Vegetables
  • Vitamins / administration & dosage


  • Antioxidants
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Sodium, Dietary
  • Vitamins