1 May 2018 is the twentieth annual World Asthma Day; the aim of this day is to raise awareness, care and support for those affected by asthma. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways which causes breathing problems. Symptoms of asthma include breathlessness, coughing, wheezing and a feeling of tightness in the chest and vary in frequency and severity.

This year’s World Asthma Day theme is “NEVER TOO EARLY, NEVER TOO LATE. It’s always the right time to address airways disease”.

Often when our clients change their diet and lifestyle, embracing a healthier way of eating, we notice one of the results is often improvement of asthma symptoms. Considering asthma is an inflammatory and immune condition; it makes sense to reduce inflammation and support the immune system. Much of your immune system is controlled

Kirsten Flavell © 2016

by your gut health and in particular the health of your microbiome (the bugs living inside your body).

Studies have found  that a certain pattern if microbes living in a baby’s gut in its first four weeks of life may directly impact the developing immune system,  leading to a higher risk of asthma and allergies later in childhood. A paper published September 2016 in Nature Medicine shows that the gut microbes present in some one month old infants predict a three-fold higher risk of developing allergic reactions by age two and asthma by age four.

More and more research suggests improving the health of your gut bacteria can support your immune system, improve mental health, improve digestive health and help with overall health and wellbeing. A study presented at the annual meeting of the Thoracic Society for Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) indicates that it can also be a way to treat asthma. TSANZ president Professor Peter Gibson said “we’re at the tip of a new paradigm for how diet can be used to treat asthma.”

In the study, the participants received daily supplements of inulin which altered their gut microbiome and therefore had a positive effect on airway inflammation and asthma control. Inulin is a soluble fibre found naturally in foods like onion, garlic, asparagus and banana; it is also in the chicory root herb. Inulin is not digested in your small intestine; it travels to your large intestine acting as a prebiotic (a food source for your beneficial bacteria) and is converted into a short chain fatty acid that is healing and nourishing to the colon cells.

The study’s lead researcher, University of Newcastle professor Lisa Wood said “more and more we are learning about how our Westernised, highly processed diet is negatively impacting our health.” “It illustrates just how vitally important it is that Australians eat healthily and how fundamental healthy gut bacteria are to our wellbeing.” What causes these problems with your microbiome and what can you do to correct it?

Your birth – your microbiome begins with mum, her general health including the health of her microbiome is important. You get inoculated with mum’s bacteria in the birth process travelling through the birth canal. Those who are born via caesarean section miss that important step and may need to be given appropriate probiotics (talk to a health professional about this).

Being breast fed or not, important bacteria and immune cells are transferred to an infant during breast feeding.

Eating a high packaged food and high sugar diet. Sugar feeds the wrong kind of bacteria and will completely change your microbiome in a negative way.

Overdoing the antibacterials. Yes we do need to use soap and water, hygiene is important, however unless you are in a hospital type environment, it does not need to be specifically labelled as antibacterial. The hygiene hypothesis refers to the increase in allergies that has happened since we have “antibacterialised” our world. We now fear bacteria, tv commercials support that fear encouraging us to use the latest soap, spray, cleaner, wipe etc to get rid of all bacteria. Since our bodies are 10 to 1 in favour of bacteria cells, yes we have 10 times more bacteria cells compared to human cells. We need to support a healthy microbiome, not actively wipe it out! Play with pets and in the dirt to strengthen your immune system.

Medications, especially antibiotics, whilst they can be life-saving, they are indiscriminate, wiping out loads of beneficial bacteria allowing pathogenic bacteria to multiply unchallenged. This is why women often get thrush with antibiotics. Only take antibiotics when you really need to and follow them up with probiotics.

Eat prebiotic foods including onion, leek, garlic, asparagus and banana. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and they include full fat yoghurt (coconut or dairy), kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, pickles, tempeh and natto. When you first eat these kinds of foods, they can be quite upsetting to the tummy so eat small amounts, that is all we need. Reduce sugar and packet foods – just eat real food. For good health and to improve your asthma symptoms – learn to nourish your microbiome!

Fiona Kane is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Holistic Counsellor, Transformational Life Coach, Professional Speaker, Podcaster and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health Pty Ltd, holding an Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine, Diploma in Holistic Counselling and Life Care and Certificate in Transformational Life Coaching. Fiona is registered and accredited with Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS), Australia’s largest professional association of complementary medicine practitioners. Fiona has been in practice for 11 years.