Eating processed meats 'worsens asthma symptoms'

21/12/2016 - 09:01
Regularly eating processed meats, such as bacon, sausages and ham, has been linked to increasing the severity of asthma.

The research, published online in the journal Thorax, found that four or more weekly servings seem to have the greatest impact on symptoms.

Cured and processed meat is rich in nitrites, which was found to potentially have a role in airway inflammation - a typical feature of asthma.

To find out if dietary processed meat intake was associated with the worsening of asthma symptoms over time, and what role, if any, obesity might have, the researchers drew on data from a 20-year old French study.

Dietary intake was measured using food frequency questionnaires encompassing 118 items in 46 food groups. Cured meat intake (ham, sausage, salami) was classified as low for one or fewer weekly servings; medium for one to four weekly servings; and high for four or more.

Asthma symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath in the preceding 12 months, were scored from zero to five.

Information was also gathered on other potentially influential factors, such as smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex and education attainment.

Between 2003 and 2007, 42% of the participants said they had had asthma at some point, and around half (51%) had never smoked. Just over a third (35%) were overweight, while nearly one in 10 (9%) were obese.

Participants said they ate an average of 2.5 servings of cured/processed meats a week.

By 2011-13, when the checks were next made, there had been non change in asthma symptom score for just over half the participants (53%). In one in five (20%) symptoms had worsened and in around one in four (27%) symptoms had improved.

Among those who ate one or fewer weekly servings, the proportion of those with worsening asthma symptoms was 14%; among those eating 1-4, the proportion was 20%; and among those eating four or more, the proportion was 22%.

After taking account of potentially influential factors those who ate the most cured meats were 76% more likely to experience worsening asthma symptoms than those who ate the least.

Overweight and obesity, which has previously been linked to worsening asthma, accounted for just 14% of this association, suggesting that processed meat intake may have an independent role in symptoms.

The researchers cannot make any firm conclusions, due to it being an observational study, but research from other countries also points to a potential role for cured and processed meats in lung function and health, the researchers claim.

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