Shaun Ward MSc ANutr
Asthma is one of the most common conditions in the world, affecting over 20 million people in the United States alone.
Unfortunately, the prevalence of asthma is continually rising in all countries and it is becoming a major health problem that needs to be resolved.
The reason why it is becoming more common is not fully known, speculated to be due to changing environmental exposures and an increased susceptibility and reduced resistance against pathogens, viruses, and bacteria.
The initiating cause of asthma is ultimately many negative interactions between inflammatory cells and mediators. Once exposed to an external trigger, such as a pathogen, inflammatory mediators are released from mast cells, attracting other inflammatory cells towards pulmonary tissues.
Over time, if the trigger if frequent and continuous, this can cause lung injuries, a large secretion of mucus, and excess activity of smooth muscle which consequently leads to asthma.
It is therefore defined as a chronic inflammatory disease that negatively effects a person’s airways – medically termed as “reversible airways bronchoconstriction”.
Many times it will cause a tightness of the chest and a feeling of breathlessness which may be particularly uncomfortable, however the severity of the condition varies dramatically from one individual to the next.
Some supplements have been found to help prevent or treat asthma, including:
Magnesium is the 4th most abundant ion in the human body, with the overwhelming majority of magnesium stores found in bones and organs.
It has long been known that magnesium has a tonne of important roles in enzymatic reactions that help maintain cellular homeostasis.
Magnesium’s role for preventing or treating asthma has not been clearly defined, but lab studies have demonstrated its ability to relax the bronchial cells .
In smooth muscle, magnesium may also decrease intracellular calcium and activate sodium-calcium pumps, which could also result in muscle cell relaxation.
Studies that analyze inflammatory responses also find that magnesium can inhibit mast cell degranulation and reduce the production of inflammatory mediators that may cause lung injury.
- Clinical asthma score percentage of peak expiratory flow rate
- Oxygen saturation
- Forced expiratory volume in 1 second
- Forced vital capacity
Interestingly those who supplement with magnesium also have lower rates of hospital admissions .
Further, in patients who were subjected to hospital treatment, magnesium supplementation completely eliminates their need to have additional external ventilation to help their breathing .
In general, randomized and non-randomized trials conclude that patients experiencing severe asthma complications benefit from magnesium supplementation as an alternative therapy to the traditional β2-agonists  .
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a recognized dietary antioxidant and it has been suggested that dietary antioxidants in the epithelial lining and lining fluids of the lung (where vitamin C is abundant) may be beneficial in the reduction of oxidative damage .
Based on national surveys there has been a large reported drop in the consumption of antioxidant food sources, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, during the last century in the United States.
This is important, as a low vitamin C intake is associated with pulmonary dysfunction that is closely linked to the onset of asthma .
More to this, both adults and children with asthma are found to have significantly lower concentrations of vitamin C when compared to those who do not have asthma .
To make matters worse, people with asthma have a noticeably increased demand for vitamin C, for currently unknown reasons.
In terms of the practical application of vitamin C, meta-analyses have confirmed that those who supplement with vitamin C have a greater chance of improving, and even reversing, symptoms of asthma .
The mechanisms by which vitamin C has potential effects are not fully established, although it likely acts via the arachidonic acid pathway, as well as possessing powerful antiviral properties  .
Key researchers in the field also suggest that vitamin C can be recommended as a viable therapeutic agent in asthma or in the prevention of exercise‐induced bronchoconstriction, despite the need for more robust research to clarify the use of this supplement .
3. Black Seed
Black seeds, also known as nigella sativa seeds, is a popular spice as well as a traditional herbal medicine used in various diseases including asthma.
The chemical composition of black seed has been studied in great detail, noting that it contains a variety of oils, alkaloids, and saponins, with the main active compound thought to be thymoquinone.
This is because the thymoquinone content within black seed oil has shown clear anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects in several studies  , alongside a bronchodilatory effect in other trials  .
In addition, multiple controlled clinical trials have indicated that black seed extracts are able to improve the clinical symptoms of asthma .
Although it has to be said that these studies only have a very small number of participants, and there is a need for large clinical trial to confirm these effects.
Choline is a water soluble essential nutrient important in neurotransmission, lipid signaling, membrane structure, and the synthesis of methionine.
But more importantly, choline may be able to reduce DNA methylation, a mechanism that regulates gene-environment interactions in asthma.
This is because dietary methyl groups can be produced via choline dependent pathways.
At least in animal studies, choline has been shown to lower the amount of allergic inflammation in airways.
Specifically in terms of asthma, individuals with asthma are known to have decreased choline levels, and choline supplementation tends to reduce bronchial hyperreactivity and use of asthma drugs.
A recent comprehensive review on asthma patients also confirms that current evidence strongly justifies the use of choline supplementation as a treatment for asthma.
Albeit there is contradicting evidence such as a trial finding no differences in asthma symptoms after 6 weeks of choline supplementation – although a low dose of choline was used .
The Bottom Line
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition that has potential to cause lung injuries.
A low inflammatory diet can go some way to improving the symptoms of asthma, and certain supplements may contribute to improvements in this condition.
Evidence-based supplements for this purpose are magnesium, vitamin C, black seed, and choline.