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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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July 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 5)

Exercise induced asthma
About the author: 
Joanna Evans

Exercise induced asthma image

Nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes are showing promise for this common condition, says Joanna Evans

Exercise can bring amazing benefits for both body and mind. But what if every time you exercised, you experienced wheezing, coughing and extreme shortness of breath? 'Exercise-induced bronchospasm/constriction,' more commonly known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA), is thought to affect almost all asthma sufferers and up to 20 percent of the general population without asthma.1

The usual treatment, aside from avoiding physical activity, is bronchodilator drugs like the beta-2 agonists, designed to open the airways of the lungs. But these inevitably come with potential side-effects—headaches, tremors and palpitations are among the most common ones.2 They've also been found to stop working the longer they're taken3 and can even make EIA worse.4

If you're looking for a drug-free solution, here are five science-supported remedies to try.

1 Do yoga

As well as being useful for asthma sufferers in general,5 yoga appears to be beneficial for people with EIA, reducing the use of rescue medication, boosting exercise capacity and improving lung function. In one study of asthmatic children, all those diagnosed with EIA no longer had asthma attacks in response to exercise after three months of twice-weekly yoga sessions.6

2 Ditch the salt

A high-salt diet has been linked to EIA, so restricting salt intake may improve symptoms.7 In fact, a small study found that a low-salt diet improved lung function after exercise in those with EIA, while a high-salt diet worsened lung function.8

The same researchers also reported that a restricted salt diet improves lung function in EIA sufferers during exercise too.9

3 Get some mussel

An omega-3 supplement derived from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Lyprinol, available online) had impressive results for EIA in one trial, reducing airway inflammation, and improving lung function and asthma symptoms.10

Fish oil, another source of omega-3 fatty acids, also seems to have beneficial effects. In a study of asthmatics with EIA, taking fish oil capsules containing 3.2 g of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 2 g of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) significantly improved lung function and completely eliminated EIA symptoms.11 These dosages are rather high, though, so consider starting on a lower dose to see if this has a positive effect.

Suggested daily dosages: 2 g EPA and 1 g DHA, or 3 capsules of Lyprinol.

See WDDTY August 2018 for our top omega-3 picks, including vegan and fish oil sources

4 Try vitamin C

EIA may be caused by an increased production of free radicals in the body, according to some researchers, so free radical-fighting antioxidants like vitamin C might help alleviate symptoms.

In a meta-analysis of the current research on the topic, vitamin C substantially reduced EIA symptoms when taken before exercise.12

Suggested daily dosage: 1-2 g, an hour before exercise

5 Consider carotenoids

The antioxidant carotenoids beta-carotene (found in dark-green vegetables like spinach and broccoli as well as in orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes) and lycopene (found in red/pink fruit like tomatoes, watermelon and grapefruit) have also shown promise for EIA.

A daily dose of 64 mg of beta-carotene derived from Dunaliella algae, taken for one week, prevented EIA in over half of the 38 patients included in one study.13 The same scientists also discovered that a daily dose of lycopene (30 mg) improved symptoms in 55 percent of EIA patients.14

Suggested daily dosage: 5,000 IU mixed carotenoids


1 ERJ Open Res, 2018; 4: 00010-2018
2 Am J Respir Med, 2003; 2: 287-97
3 Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2013; 10: CD003564
4 Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 2002; 165: 1068-70
5 Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2016; 4: CD010346
6 Altern Ther Health Med, 2014; 20: 18-23
7 Phys Sportsmed, 2010; 38: 118-31
8 Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2000; 32: 1815-9
9 J Sports Sci, 2001; 19: 865-73
10 Respir Med, 2013; 107: 1152-63
11 Chest, 2006; 129: 39-49
12 BMJ Open. 2013; 3: e002416
13 Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol, 1999; 82: 549-53
14 Allergy, 2000; 55: 1184-9

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