The Role of Diet in Managing Pediatric Asthma

A mother eating fruits and vegetables during her pregnancy.

Asthma is the single most common chronic disease in children, and its prevalence is rising rapidly. Several factors contribute to that rise, including genetic, environmental, and nutritional influences.

For example, the mother’s diet during the prenatal period and the infant’s diet during the early postnatal period have been linked to pediatric asthma development (or non-development) in many children.

What Dietary Factors Can Influence Pediatric Asthma Development?

The rapid increase in the prevalence of asthma in children over the last few decades has brought to light a great need to identify factors that impact the development of this chronic disease.

Certain dietary factors have been found to influence whether pediatric asthma might develop in a child or not:

  • The mother’s diet during pregnancy
  • The use or absence of special milk formulas
  • The duration of breastfeeding
  • Prenatal and early life use of vitamins
  • Prenatal and early life use of probiotics and prebiotics
  • The timing of introducing a baby to regular foods

These areas are continuously being researched further to better understand how they might be focus points for preventing asthma.

Specific nutrients ingested during pregnancy are thought to help prevent asthma, allergies, and other respiratory conditions in children.

For example, vitamin D supplementation above the standard dosage may protect against wheezing during early childhood but doesn’t seem to prevent asthma development in school-age children. The same may hold true for omega-3 fatty acids.

It’s important to note that research is ongoing, and at this time, limited information is available on dietary interventions for preventing asthma during the first 1,000 days of life.

The Pregnant Mother’s Diet and Pediatric Asthma Prevention

Some research has shown that when a mother eats specific foods during pregnancy, the protection against asthma development may increase. These foods include:

  • Cooked green vegetables
  • Fish
  • Apples
  • Eggs
  • Raw vegetables
  • Whole grains

Studies have also found significant associations between a pregnant mother’s intake of red meats and the risk of wheezing: The more meat mothers ate during the study, the higher the risk of wheezing, allergic rhinitis, and atopic dermatitis developing in their children.

Nutrients that Can Ward Off Pediatric Asthma

Experts agree that the beneficial protection from dermatitis, pediatric asthma, and rhinitis that vegetables, grains, and eggs provide may be partly due to these foods’ high levels of antioxidants. These foods are also high in vitamin D and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Some experiments have shown that oxidant molecules can induce asthma by instigating the release of proinflammatory mediators. Since these mediators cause inflammation, this response can cause asthmatic reactions by increasing inflammation in the lungs and airways.

Therefore, if the mother’s and infant’s diets lack a healthy supply of antioxidants to prevent an overly aggressive inflammation reaction from developing, a child can be more likely to develop pediatric asthma.

Additional Foods that May Influence Asthma Development, Allergies, and Wheezing

Some research shows that introducing certain foods to a child during the early postnatal period may be beneficial in preventing certain types of allergies.

These foods include fish, eggs, and peanuts. Furthermore, when pregnant mothers eat common food allergens like wheat, eggs, and peanuts during early pregnancy, their children seem to have a lower risk of allergies and asthma.

On the other hand, one possible explanation for the association between high maternal meat intake and wheezing with allergic rhinitis has to do with the cooking process of meat.

Carcinogenic compounds that are produced when red meat is cooked at high temperatures are likely offenders. N-nitroso compounds found in nitrite-preserved meats are also potentially to blame for some cases of pediatric asthma.

Specifically, there is evidence of an association between these carcinogens and compounds and negative impacts on the fetal immune system.

What Does It All Mean?

Researchers are just beginning to scrape the surface of the science behind how prenatal and postnatal diet factors impact the development of pediatric asthma. But while researchers face disagreements and ambiguity in many aspects of their investigations, they have made significant progress.

Pregnant women should aim to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that contains plenty of antioxidant-rich foods while limiting their consumption of red meats. Research continues in the drive to advance dietary guidelines for women and children to provide the best protection against pediatric asthma possible.