Asthma is characterised by chronic lung airway inflammation, increased airway responsiveness and variable airflow obstruction. In Westernised countries asthma is a public health concern because of its prevalence, associated ill health and high societal and healthcare costs. In recent decades there has been a marked increase in asthma prevalence, particularly in Westernised countries. It has been proposed that changing diet has contributed to the increase in asthma. Several dietary hypotheses exist; the first relates the increase in asthma to declining dietary antioxidant intake, the second to decreased intake of long-chain n-3 PUFA and increasing intake of n-6 PUFA. Vitamin D supplementation and deficiency have also been hypothesised to have contributed to the increase in asthma. Observational studies have reported associations between asthma and dietary antioxidants (vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, Se, flavonoids, fruit), lipids (PUFA, butter, margarine, fish) and vitamin D. However, supplementing the diets of adults with asthma with antioxidants and lipids has minimal, if any, clinical benefit. There is growing interest in the possibility that childhood asthma is influenced by maternal diet during pregnancy, with studies highlighting associations between childhood asthma and maternal intake of some nutrients (vitamin E, vitamin D, Se, PUFA) during pregnancy. It has been suggested that maternal diet during pregnancy influences fetal airway and/or immune development. Further intervention studies are needed to establish whether modification of maternal nutrient intake during pregnancy can be used as a healthy low-cost public health measure to reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma.
(Online publication December 08 2009)