Got asthma but want milk? Breathe easy, drink up and rest assured that your three daily serves of dairy foods will not trigger or exacerbate your asthma symptoms.
The myth that people with asthma should avoid milk stems from the misconception that dairy products increase mucus in the airways, thus triggering asthma attacks.
To dispel this myth, Australia's National Asthma Council is reminding people with asthma and their parents or carers that dairy foods do not cause asthma and rarely trigger asthma symptoms and warns that eliminating dairy foods could have adverse consequences.
Associate Professor Mimi Tang, spokesperson for the National Asthma Council and a paediatric allergist and immunologist with Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital said, “There is no clinical evidence that reducing or eliminating dairy products will improve asthma symptoms or control unless there is a clear history of milk allergy.”
“Furthermore, milk does not cause mucus production. When you drink milk, your saliva is temporarily thickened and many people confuse this with mucus.”
Professor Tang added, “Less than 2 per cent of adults and 11 per cent of children with asthma experience asthma symptoms related to food, including dairy products. In these instances, the asthma symptoms are almost always associated with other features of a food allergic reaction such as hives.”
In a clinical trial of 20 patients with asthma (10 believed dairy foods exacerbated their asthma and 10 did not), patients were given a ‘milk challenge’ and both symptoms and lung function tests were recorded before and after challenge. The results showed that none of the patients reported an increase in cough or sputum production following the dairy challenge.
A recent international study indicated that intake of milk and milk products is not associated with an increase of asthma symptoms. Instead, consumption of dairy products was associated with reduced asthma symptoms although it is difficult to know whether this was directly caused by the intake of dairy products or just a chance finding.
So, the National Asthma Council advises people with asthma to continue to consume milk and other dairy products as part of a balanced, nutritious diet.
Dairy Australia’s dietitian Janine Cornel concurred, “The danger of such health myths is that people can miss out on the nutrients their body needs. Dairy foods naturally contain more than 10 essential nutrients including calcium, riboflavin, protein and vitamins A and B12. Studies have found that children who avoid cows’ milk are at greater risk of deficiencies in these nutrients, which can have serious health consequences.
“We are especially concerned about parents reducing dairy foods in their children’s diets. Studies show that 47 per cent of parents have changed their children’s diets because of asthma or a combination of asthma and another condition. Most of these parents chose to eliminate dairy foods and most did not consult their doctor or a dietitian."
Both Prof Tang and Ms Cornel encouraged people with asthma or who have children with asthma to talk to their doctor before making any dietary changes.
For further information, the National Asthma Council has a fact sheet entitled ‘Asthma and food’ available on its website