After Kimberly improved her diet and began exercising regularly, managing her asthma became easier.
Kimberly was four years old when she had an asthma attack so severe she punctured a lung. By 16, she had been hospitalized at least nine times for asthma and taken dozens of medications, including prednisone, an oral steroid. She shied away from exercise and gained weight.
In 2001, she changed her diet, eating more fruits and vegetables, and started exercising more. While the asthma didn’t disappear, its severity lessoned, and she hasn’t been hospitalized for five years. She is now off steroids entirely.
Perhaps she’s outgrowing her asthma, but her medical team at Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland and her parents think diet and exercise have something to do with it.
“How our diet affects us we don’t totally understand,” said Karen Hardy, MD, division chief, Pulmonary Medicine, “but when people are eating right and exercising, they feel better across the board.”
Kimberley’s mom, Dorothy Southall, started feeding Kimberly more fruits and vegetables during her daughter’s last hospital stay in 2001.
“Kimberly took it real seriously, Dorothy said. “I noticed she started refusing junk food. Everyone else would be eating chips and she would have an apple.”
Soon carrots, salad, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, celery and bananas became staples of Kimberly’s diet as well.
Linda Sugimura, a registered dietitian at Children’s, works with Kimberly and other asthma patients to get on a healthy diet and stick with it. She advises at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and avoiding soda and foods that contain trans-fatty acids, such as french fries.
“Losing weight seems to help with the symptoms of asthma; There’s less weight on the lungs so people can breathe better,” Linda said. She recommends foods high in anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and walnuts, which have decreased inflammation in the lungs in some studies.
“There is some connection between nutrition and asthma, and that’s something you can do to get better,” Linda added.
Nowadays, Kimberly loves to play soccer, swim and ride her bike. She believes that diet, exercise, vitamins and asthma medication all play a role in helping her keep ahead of the asthma.
On days she isn’t active, she notices a difference.
“It feels wrong,” she said. “You have to go do something.”
More about asthma and obesity
(Story courtesy of Rebecca Vesely and the Oakland Tribune. Photographs courtesy of Sean Connelley and the Oakland Tribune.)