Diet and asthma: looking back, moving forward

Respir Res. 2009 Jun 12;10(1):49. doi: 10.1186/1465-9921-10-49.


Asthma is an increasing global health burden, especially in the western world. Public health interventions are sought to lessen its prevalence or severity, and diet and nutrition have been identified as potential factors. With rapid changes in diet being one of the hallmarks of westernization, nutrition may play a key role in affecting the complex genetics and developmental pathophysiology of asthma. The present review investigates hypotheses about hygiene, antioxidants, lipids and other nutrients, food types and dietary patterns, breastfeeding, probiotics and intestinal microbiota, vitamin D, maternal diet, and genetics. Early hypotheses analyzed population level trends and focused on major dietary factors such as antioxidants and lipids. More recently, larger dietary patterns beyond individual nutrients have been investigated such as obesity, fast foods, and the Mediterranean diet. Despite some promising hypotheses and findings, there has been no conclusive evidence about the role of specific nutrients, food types, or dietary patterns past early childhood on asthma prevalence. However, diet has been linked to the development of the fetus and child. Breastfeeding provides immunological protection when the infant's immune system is immature and a modest protective effect against wheeze in early childhood. Moreover, maternal diet may be a significant factor in the development of the fetal airway and immune system. As asthma is a complex disease of gene-environment interactions, maternal diet may play an epigenetic role in sensitizing fetal airways to respond abnormally to environmental insults. Recent hypotheses show promise in a biological approach in which the effects of dietary factors on individual physiology and immunology are analyzed before expansion into larger population studies. Thus, collaboration is required by various groups in studying this enigma from epidemiologists to geneticists to immunologists. It is now apparent that this multidisciplinary approach is required to move forward and understand the complexity of the interaction of dietary factors and asthma.

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / genetics
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Asthma / prevention & control
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Intestines / microbiology
  • Prevalence
  • Public Health


  • Antioxidants
  • Dietary Fats