Your wellbeing

About Asbestos

Healthy eating

Even prior to being diagnosed with an asbestos disease, maintaining a balanced nutritious diet is vitally important. Shortness of breath, which is a’ common symptom of asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer, causes the body to use more calories and you will require additional energy from your diet to accommodate for this.

Healthy eating pyramid

Queensland Health recommends a lifestyle which includes a healthy diet and regular exercise, ceasing smoking and limiting alcohol intake. To stay healthy and active, it is recommended to eat a wide variety of healthy foods. The diagram below gives us an idea of what to eat more of and less of over the day. It is also recommended to drink plenty of water throughout the day and to limit alcoholic drinks to 2 per day for women and 4 per day for men with at least 2 alcohol free days per week.

Food pyramid – what should we eat to stay healthy

We should eat most foods from the vegetables, legumes, fruit, bread, cereals, rice and pasta food groups.

We should eat some foods from the milk, yogurt, cheese, meat (fish & chicken) food groups.

We should only eat a small amount of fats, oils and sugary foods.

Also, remember to drink plenty of water every day.

Water helps prevent constipation, keeps the kidneys functioning well, helps thin mucous secretions and helps combat the build up of toxins in the system.

To encourage appetite, it is important to maintain good oral hygiene. When shortness of breath is interfering with your enjoyment of food -try chewing food more slowly. SmallĀ­ frequent meals will also be more digestible and will reduce fatigue and the swallowing of air.

Other useful tips to stay healthy

If you suffer from a productive cough, deep breathing and coughing, exercises should be performed about an hour before a meal with at least 30 minutes of rest prior to eating, to prevent tiring.

AMAA recommends having a regular eating pattern. Also consider having your main meal in the middle of the day rather than at night when you may feel more tired. If you can only manage small amounts of food at a time or you experience a decrease in your appetite at certain times of the day, make sure you eat as much as you can when you can as your body requires the energy to combat the symptoms of any disease.

Simple activities can often stimulate appetite so try doing some simple exercises, as listed in the next section, prior to your usual meal time. If you experience bloating, foods to avoid are cabbages, brussels sprouts, onions, beans and apples. It may assist you and/or your carer to have some meals delivered from time to time or have ready-prepared meals in the freezer for those times when you feel hungry but can’t decide what to have or lose your appetite quickly before a meal is prepared from scratch. There are a lot of options available of ready-prepared meals at your local supermarket and also from companies who can deliver meals to your door.

Weight control is very important at any stage of your life and whilst being underweight reduces the body’s immune system, leaving it open to infection and increasing fatigue due to low energy reserves, being overweight places undue stress on the body due to more heaving breathing and higher expenditure of energy. It is recommended to talk to your doctor about your weight and be guided by them before undertaking any diet or weight control program.

Sexual function

Continuation of a sexual relationship is often severely disrupted by chronic respiratory distress. However, the drugs used with the various treatments to manage the asbestos disease all play a large part in this area. You may like to speak with your specialist or perhaps be referred to a counsellor as this can be helpful in understanding the changes taking place. Loss of sexual function/drive is a natural side effect of the disease and treatments.


Medications should only be taken at the direction of the doctor, which includes any over the counter medicine such as cough medicine, nasal preparations and anti-histamines. All of these drugs whilst quite safe to use normally could interact adversely with more potent drugs prescribed by the doctor. Any drug may combine to increase the desired action of a prescribed drug so that it has a dangerous effect that could be life threatening. (Some cough suppressants, sedatives and hypnotics cause respiratory depression.)

It is vitally important to discuss thoroughly with your doctor the desired effect and possible side effects of prescribed drugs. Most drugs have side effects, but only occasionally do they present as a problem. When a combination of drugs is taken, or when drugs are taken in larger doses, or over a prolonged period of time, then serious side effects may occur.
The effect of some drugs may significantly reduce quality of life and may have irreversible effects on other organs and systems in the body. By understanding the expected outcomes of drug use the person can weigh the cost and benefit of medication in their treatment and quality of life.

Natural and alternative therapies

Some people prefer to use natural or alternative therapies to treat, manage and live with an asbestos related disease. Natural therapies may also be considered to complement the more traditional approach to treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Of course, following a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise is important whatever path you choose. Some natural therapies to consider are:-

  • Acupuncture
  • Nutritional Herb Supplements
  • Massage
  • Mediation
  • Yoga

You should discuss the use of any herbal or alternative therapies with your doctor or general practitioners as some medications may interfere with alternative therapies. It may also be helpful to keep a record of all medications taken (both traditional and herbal) including the amount taken, frequency of use, reason/s for use and results. Side effects should be noted as well including good effects, no effect and detrimental effects.


It is very important to maintain a clear airway at all times and to ensure that mucous from the air passages does not build up and clog the small bronchioles. Deep breathing is very
useful in assisting the expectoration of sputum. However sometimes chest physiotherapy may be necessary. A physiotherapist can provide guidelines to follow to help sufferers and carers perform tasks at home to help alleviate symptoms.

Physiotherapy should be performed between meals, not directly before as this tires the person too much so as to prevent enjoyment of the meal. Also physiotherapy performed on a full stomach may be too uncomfortable and distressing, and may result in vomiting.

Emergency contact

All persons should carry identification on them at all times in case of an emergency and/or if you are by yourself at any time. Those with asbestos related conditions often suffer from other conditions and it is important to let a family member or two and perhaps a friend know what these conditions are, the medication that you are taking or contact numbers for your general practitioner or treating specialist It may be helpful to provide a neighbour with the telephone number of a family member who can be contacted in an emergency should something occur whilst you are at home by yourself.

It may be prudent to carry details of emergency contacts in your wallet as well as the number of your general practitioner or treating specialist. This emergency information could also include details of Your Enduring Power of Attorney or whether or not you have an Advance Health Directive.

How can AMAA help you

For more information on staying healthy and the management of asbestos related diseases, please get in touch with the Asbestosis and Mesothelioma Association of Australia (AMAA) on 1800 017 758 or via our contact us form today.