Asthma affects 235 million people worldwide, according to the WHO. Typical symptoms include trouble breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Not a pleasant experience if you’ve ever been the victim of an asthma attack. And they can be brought on by a number of factors. Common triggers include indoor allergens such as dust mites and pet dander, and outdoor allergens such as pollen, tobacco smoke and chemical irritants.
Prevention is the key to asthma control. Limiting exposure to triggers can limit the number of attacks a person can suffer. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, such as when pollen counts are high outside during certain seasons. But we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in a position where we may be self-inflicting an asthma attack, bit it an environment we choose to be in or something we put into our body. Following that thought, a recent study in the journal Thorax suggested that regularly eating cured meats such as ham and salami might aggravate asthma.
Hold The Cold Cuts
The researchers analyzed data that tracked the health of study participants with asthma, focusing on those who had complete dietary, weight, asthma symptom scores and demographic data over a 20-year period. Looking at close to 1,000 people with the respiratory disease, French researchers found that those who ate the most processed and cured meats were 76 percent more likely to see their asthma symptoms worsen over time compared to those who ate the least.
Classifications were based on frequency of consumption of cured meats, such as ham, sausage and salami on a weekly basis. Worsening of asthma symptoms at 2 intervals were found to be:
- 14% reported worse asthma symptoms eating 1 or less servings
- 20% noted worsening with 1-4 servings/week
- 22% worsened when eating 4 or more servings
Researchers also took into account smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex and education. Being overweight or obese, which has been linked to worsening asthma, accounted for only 14 percent of this association, suggesting that processed meat may have an independent role in asthma symptoms.
What makes these meats so bad? Other than the fact that they tend to have a higher saturated fat content and calorie load, cured meats are high in chemicals called nitrites that keep them from spoiling. These chemicals produce free radicals in our body that can damage cells and tissues. They have also been linked to a higher risk of other chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In addition, they were recently classified as carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, by the World Health Organization (WHO). But sadly, they are still prevalent in many diets in our country.
If you’re looking to reduce the risks of worsening asthma symptoms, you may want to consider keeping this type of food out of your diet. Adding supplements such as fish oils and antioxidants to reduce inflammation and protect against free radical damage could also add benefit to dietary changes. And making sure that your gastrointestinal tract is functioning at its best is key to keeping the immune system operating normally. If you’re looking for strategies to improve in any of these areas, give our office a call and we can help.