Q: I recently lost 10 pounds and noticed my asthma improved. What is the connection between weight and the respiratory system?

Maeve O’Connor, MD: This is really a question of body mechanics. When you are overweight or obese, most excess weight is usually in the central area of the body, or the midsection. This can reduce your lung volume, making you not able to breathe as well.

Also, the foods you put in your body are an important factor. With obesity, there’s often a pro-inflammatory diet that includes sugary, starchy foods. This can cause your body to release inflammatory hormones, such as leptin, that increase inflammation in the lungs and can lead to asthma symptoms.

Diseases that often occur with obesity, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), diabetes and hypertension, have also been found to worsen asthma. So losing weight can also help you reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

Q: So losing 10 pounds can make a huge difference in a person’s asthma symptoms?

Dr. O’Connor: Absolutely. And as an added benefit, weight loss allows patients to be better able to exercise – obviously the less weight you have, the easier it is to move around. Regular exercise has been shown to improve not only asthma symptoms but also asthma outcomes.

Q: What are some ways to lose weight so that it helps your asthma?

Dr. O’Connor: A good way to start is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes more fruit and vegetables and less sugary, starchy foods. Regular exercise is also important, but make sure you warm up properly, stay hydrated and keep your quick-relief inhaler with you if exercise causes asthma symptoms. Ask your doctor or allergist for a referral to a nutritionist or dietitian.

Maeve O’Connor, MD, FACAAI, is a board-certified allergist and immunologist with Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Relief (AAIR) in Charlotte, North Carolina. She serves on the Board of Regents with the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI).

Have a medical question? Email [email protected] or write to Ask the Allergist, Allergy & Asthma Network, 8229 Boone Blvd., Suite 260, Vienna, VA 22182.

Find an Allergist