Oil May Help Reduce Exercise-Induced Asthma SymptomsNew
research findings from Indiana University show that people with exercise-induced
asthma were able to reduce their symptoms below the threshold used
to diagnose the disease by eating a diet supplemented with fish oil.
The new findings can be found in the January issue of the journal
The research showed that the special diet with added fish oil
reduced narrowing of the patient's airway and enabled the person
to use less asthma medication. These findings, in combination with
related research findings by exercise physiologist Timothy D. Mickleborough,
show the possible benefits of combining dietary supplementation
with reduced medication. A combination of these into a treatment
could be at least as beneficial as either in isolation. There would
also be fewer of the potential side effects from medication, such
as reduced effectiveness from long-term use and toxicity from some
"There have been remarkable advances in asthma therapy over
the last 10 years. Inhaled corticosteroids and short-acting beta-2-agonists
have proven to be highly effective. Long-acting beta-2-agonists
have facilitated the control of asthma, and daily medications such
as leukotriene modifiers have recently proven highly effective
in asthma therapy. However, these medications are not without real
and potential side effects," said Mickleborough, assistant
professor in the Department of Kinesiology at IU Bloomington. "Alternative
therapies for EIA, or therapies that reduce the dose requirements
of traditional medications, would be of benefit to the asthmatic
and potentially reduce the public health burden of this disease."
In exercise-induced asthma (EIA) breathing becomes difficult due
an acute narrowing of the airway after exercise triggered by
vigorous exercise. Around 80 percent of people with asthma have
this condition, also called exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
EIA also is found in an estimated 10 percent or more of elite
athletes and as much as 10 percent of the general population
without asthma. EIA can discourage people, particularly children,
from participating in sports and other physical activity.
"Exercise is a powerful trigger for asthma symptoms, so young
individuals may avoid vigorous activity, resulting in damaging
consequences to their physical and social well-being," Mickleborough
The study’s participants were adults with mild to moderate
persistent asthma. In the study, the post-exercise lung function
of participants improved by about 64 percent and their use of emergency
inhalers decreased by 31 percent when they consumed a diet supplemented
with fish oil, rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3
PUFA), for three weeks.
The typical diet for people in Western societies includes 20 to
25 times more n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in sunflower,
safflower, and corn oils among others) than n-3 PUFA (also found
in canola and flaxseed oils, along with fish oil). The Western
diet is also considered pro-inflammatory.
Key Research Findings
One of the key findings from the study was that, while on the diet
supplemented daily with fish oil (3.2 grams of eicosapentaenoic
acid and 2 grams of docohexaenoic acid), airway pro-inflammatory
cells and markers, which are responsible for airway inflammation
and subsequent airway obstruction, were reduced in sputum taken
from the EIA subjects.
The randomized, double-blind cross-over study involved 16 people
with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma, meaning they required
daily maintenance medications to control their symptoms. The study
participants did not use their maintenance medication during the
course of the study and were all considered recreationally active.
The fish oil was pharmaceutical grade, meaning it was purified
at a molecular level to remove metals and other harmful contaminants
that can be present in retail fish oil products.
Co-authors of the report include Martin Lindley, research scientist
in the IUB Department of Kinesiology; Alyce Fly, associate professor
in the IUB Department of Applied Health Science; and Alina Ionescu,
Department of Respiratory Medicine, University of Wales College
of Medicine, Cardiff, UK.
Studies on the impact of diet on EIA are limited and inconclusive.
Research by Mickleborough and his colleagues has provided the most
complete picture to date of the impact fish oil and low-salt diets
can have on exercise-induced asthma.
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