Treating Asthma and Eczema With Plant-Based Diets

I previously discussed the power of fruits and vegetables to help prevent and treat asthma and allergies. If adding a few more servings of fruits and vegetables may help asthma, what about a diet centered on plants? Twenty patients with allergic eczema were placed on a vegetarian diet.  At the end of two months, their disease scores, which covered both subjective and objective signs and symptoms, were cut in half, similar to what we might see using one of our most powerful drugs. The drug works much quicker, within about two weeks, but since drugs can often include dangerous side effects the dietary option is more attractive. This was no ordinary vegetarian diet, however. This was an in-patient study using an extremely calorically-restricted diet—the subjects were practically half fasting. Therefore, we don’t know which component was responsible for the therapeutic effect.

What about using a more conventional plant-based diet against a different allergic disease, asthma? In Sweden, there was an active health movement that claimed that a vegan diet could improve or cure asthma. This was a bold claim, so in order to test this, a group of orthopedic surgeons at Linköping University Hospital followed a series of patients who were treated with a vegan regimen for one year. Participants had to be willing to go completely plant-based, and they had to have physician-verified asthma of at least a year’s duration that wasn’t getting better or was getting worse despite the best medical therapies available.

The researchers found quite a sick group to follow. The thirty-five patients had long-established, hospital-verified bronchial asthma for an average duration of a dozen years. Of the 35 patients, 20 had been admitted to the hospital for acute asthmatic attacks during the last two years. Of these, one patient had received acute infusion therapy (emergency IV drugs) a total of 23 times during this period and another patient claimed he had been to the hospital 100 times during his disease and on every occasion had evidently required such treatments. One patient even had a cardiac arrest during an asthma attack and had been brought back to life on a ventilator. These were some pretty serious cases.

The patients were on up to eight different asthma medicines when they started, with an average of four and a half drugs, and were still not getting better. Twenty of the 35 were constantly using cortisone, which is a powerful steroid used in serious cases. These were all fairly advanced cases of the disease, more severe than the vegan practitioners were used to.

Eleven couldn’t stick to the diet for a year, but of the 24 that did, 71% reported improvement at four months and 92% at one year. These were folks that had not improved at all over the previous year. Concurrently with this improvement, the patients greatly reduced their consumption of medicine. Four had completely given up their medication altogether, and only two weren’t able to at least drop their dose. They went from an average of 4.5 drugs down to 1.2, and some were able to get off cortisone.

Some subjects said that their improvement was so considerable they felt like “they had a new life.” One nurse had difficulty at work because most of her co-workers were smokers, but after the plant-based regimen she could withstand the secondhand smoke without getting an attack and could tolerate other asthma triggers. Others reported the same thing. Whereas previously they could only live in a clean environment and felt more or less isolated in their homes, they could now stay out without getting asthmatic attacks.

The researchers didn’t find only subjective improvements. They also found a significant improvement in a number of clinical variables, most importantly in measures of lung function, vital capacity, forced expiratory volume, and physical working capacity, as well as significant drops in sed rate (a marker of inflammation) and IgE ( allergy associated antibodies).

The study started out with 35 patients who had suffered from serious asthma for an average of 12 years, all receiving long-term medication, with 20 using cortisone, who were subjected to vegan food for a year, and, in almost all cases, medication was withdrawn or reduced, and asthma symptoms were significantly reduced.

Despite the improved lung function tests and lab values, the placebo effect can’t be discounted since there was no blinded control group. However, the nice thing about a healthy diet is that there are only good side effects. The subjects’ cholesterol significantly improved, their blood pressures got better, and they lost 18 pounds. From a medical standpoint, I say why not give it a try?

If you missed the first three videos of this 4-part series here are the links:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Related:
Tricks to Get Adults to Eat Healthier
Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors
Combating Common Diseases With Plants

74 comments

Claudia O.
Claudia O.1 years ago

I have asthma. I clean my alimentation and eating organic and less products from supermarket. Indeed, my life is better; I don't need daily cortisone, I have 20-30 times less crises.
But biggest evolution was to start to love me with eczema or without, to discover that what my body refuses, and to reduce the amont of chemical from my house: less soap, less cleaning substances just using vinegar and water, free parfumes, no makeup. And there my live was better!!

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Leo K.
Leo K.2 years ago

Eczema is one of the skin ailments that could be treated using natural method. With the Manuka soap, honey cream and essential oil posted on the website www.manukanatural.com, the people can completely eliminate eczema.

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Elena Poensgen
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you

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Christie C.
Christie C2 years ago

Thanks for posting Dr. Greger.

Of all the people I know who suffer from asthma, none of them eat well. Oh, they'll claim that they eat healthy (just like EVERYONE does), but their diets consist mostly of food that comes out of a box or bag, very few fresh or raw foods, plenty of meat products, and lots of sugar.

I myself used to suffer from eczema, but now only get a slight rash from the chlorine in water when I shower. My childhood allergies that used to have my eyes swollen up all summer long are non-existent as well. Though it's truly just speculation, all of these changes occurred once I transitioned from a typical American diet to the one I have now, which does still include dairy and very occasionally meat, but is super high in plant foods like greens, beans, and grains on a daily basis.

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Johanna M.
Johanna Martin2 years ago

I have been vegan for many years now and I have eczema on my hands. HOWEVER, I lost more than 20 pounds going vegan--following Colin Campbell's and Joel Fuhrman's food advice.

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Randi Eckstein
2 years ago

Thanks

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Lisbeth Jensen
Lisbeth Jensen2 years ago

Thanks.

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Jean G.
JeanisAWAY G2 years ago

Thank you.

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Janet B.
Janet B2 years ago

Thanks

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Leanne B.
Leanne B2 years ago

Thanks

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