I tend to get a lot of questions from athletic patients with asthma asking about possible alternative treatments outside of using their inhalers. One key component of the proper management of asthma is reducing airway inflammation, especially since their is more data showing that asthmatics may demonstrate chronic changes along the bronchial lining of the lungs.
One additive treatment I’ve come across several times in the medical literature is the use of fish oil for it’s omega-3 fatty acid properties. (I’m not suggesting anyone stop their inhalers or other medications without discussing this change with their doctor – we are here to help our patients!)
There’s some great research out there looking at elite triathletes and cyclist that suffer from asthma. Research by Dr Timothy Mickleborough, PhD found that elite-level athletes supplementing their diet with fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) may help decrease the number of incidences of exercise-induced asthma due to a reduction in lung inflammation. One of his “fish oil for asthma” articles published in the journal of Chest in 2006 found that supplementing with 3.2 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and 2.0 grams of DHA (docohexaenoic acid) daily for three weeks significantly decreased inflammatory markers in athletes when compared to a placebo group given olive oil capsules. Note that the dose used is about three times higher than the normal dose of 1 gram of EPA.
However, it is important to note that this study doesn’t appear to actually measure pulmonary (lung) function of the triathletes and cyclist involved in the study, which I would consider an important endpoint for measuring the success of fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids for reducing incidents of exercise-induced asthma. The study does demonstrate a reduction in inflammation markers in the lungs and blood that may then reduce symptoms of exercise-induced asthma in these athletes.
I do think that this is one treatment is appropriate for athletes to try to suffer from exercise-induced asthma, in conjunction with their personal physician.