Asthma, Inflammation, and the importance of Omega-3s
Asthma rates in North America should not be overlooked. A little more than 1 in 13 people have asthma. This is 7.7% of adults and 8.4% of Children. Let's look into what asthma is and how natural treatment options such as increasing your omega-3 intake can play a role in asthma management.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung condition. In simple terms, asthma is a long-term condition where your airways narrow due to inflammation and swelling. This inflammation is combined with extra mucus production, which creates even more obstruction and difficulty breathing. If left untreated, this can result in structural changes that significantly affect a persons' way of life. Asthma is a complex condition, however, in this article, I'll focus on a natural strategy to reduce the inflammatory aspect.
Interestingly, asthma is primarily a disease of developed countries, with significantly higher asthma rates than developing countries. One of the main contributors for this is the western diet, which consists of more processed and convenience-style foods resulting in increased intake of refined sugars, fats, and additives.
Asthma & Inflammation
Given that asthma is characterized by inflammation in the airways, it makes complete sense to prevent and reduce this inflammation at a cellular level as much as we can. There are pharmaceutical preventer medications containing corticosteroids such as Flixotide, Seretide, Qvar & Symbicort. While it is essential to use our preventer inhalers regularly, it is also necessary to reduce inflammation through our diet. There are a few ways to bring down Inflammation through nutrition, but increasing your intake of Omega 3 fatty acids is a great place to start.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acid deficiency is associated with an increased incidence of asthma and allergic responses. There are two main types of fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6.
The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as flaxseed, soybean, and canola oils.
The relevant Omega-3 fatty acids regarding asthma, are EPA and DHA. These two fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and have been studied for years. For years, to get an idea of our essential fatty acid consumption, we would compare the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 foods in our diet. With modern knowledge, there's a better measurement to use, known as the Omega-3 Index.
The Omega-3 index measures the levels of EPA and DHA in the red blood cell membranes. This is expressed as a percentage. Omega 3 indexes vary from person to person between 2 and 12 %, but the sweet spot for reducing Inflammation in the airways is 8% or above. A recent, promising, 2020 Australian study showed that having a higher Omega-3 Index has a profound impact on asthma control and medication use. The study highlighted that a higher omega-3 index was found in subjects with controlled or partially controlled asthma than those with uncontrolled asthma. It showed that those with an omega-3 index of 8% or higher needed a lower maintenance dose of a preventative inhaler.
Nutritional Strategies to Increase Omega-3 Levels
What can you do to increase your Omega-3 levels? As most people do not eat nearly enough fish, so a quality Omega-3 becomes an easy, convenient way to improve your Omega-3 index.
Plant-based sources of Omega-3s
If your diet restricts fish through personal choices or health concerns, plant-based omega-3s may be your only option.
Seaweed and microalgae are the only plant-based sources of EPA and DHA – but at a very low concentration due to their extremely low total fat content (except in supplement form). It is possible to get these quality Omega-3s from concentrated algae oil, just be sure to avoid low-quality plant-based Omega-3s as they are often loaded with inflammatory fillers like sunflower and safflower oil.