Asthma is a leading chronic illness worldwide. It is a major non-communicable disorder, characterized by recurrent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing. These attacks vary in severity and frequency from person to person.
Symptoms may occur several times in a day or week in affected individuals, and for some people become worse during physical activity, cold weather, or at night. During an asthma attack, the lining of the bronchial tubes swell, causing the airways to narrow. This reduces the flow of air into and out of the lungs.
According to statistics from the World Health Organization, in 2016 more than 339 million people had asthma. That same year, approximately 417,918 people died from it. Although asthma symptoms tend to be more prevalent in affluent countries, they appear to be more severe in poorer countries. It seems that lack of education and availability of asthma medications both contribute to this dynamic. (1)
Childhood asthma is a uniquely diverse disorder, with symptoms varying widely throughout the early years. According to the CDC’s 2018 report for the US, childhood asthma affects 8.3% of children ages 0-14 years. It is a major cause of emergency room visits, hospital admissions, school absences, and loss of parental workdays. (2)
According to conventional medicine, asthma cannot be cured, but it can be managed. Avoiding the triggers that irritate and inflame the airways, causing an asthmatic episode, plus utilizing the proper medication when necessary, are two ways to keep it in check. Daily medications such as inhaled corticosteroids help keep asthma under control, while quick-relief inhalers contain a fast-acting blast of medication such as albuterol that can help open airways.
However, research continues to demonstrate the ability of natural compounds, botanicals and other holistic solutions to help control asthma symptoms, reduce airway reactivity and inflammation, and support optimal lung health over the long term. Natural ingredients such as cordyceps mushroom, honokiol from magnolia bark, and others show promise in this area.
Diet and lifestyle interventions may also be effective for reducing inflammation, supporting optimal immune response and respiratory function, and managing the triggers that drive asthma attacks.
The common triggers of asthmatic symptoms in children include viral infections of the bronchial tubes, pollution, dust, mites, pollens, and stress. To date, a limited number of studies have looked at food triggers. However, some allergy clinics have found that childhood asthma symptoms may be triggered by allergies to beef, cow’s milk, and other items including royal jelly from honey bees. Allergic symptoms, particularly asthma, may also be caused by the early introduction of certain foods. Research is ongoing in this area.
Interestingly, one study of 4680 primary school children in Singapore, found food and beverages to be the second most frequent trigger. Over half (59 percent) of those surveyed reported different menu items as aggravators of asthma, especially if it was cold. (3)
MEAT AS A TRIGGER
A survey from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine examined 4388 children between the ages of 2 and 17 from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a program of the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This survey evaluated associations between dietary advanced glycation end products (AGEs), the frequency of meat consumption, and respiratory symptoms. (4)
(AGEs) are harmful compounds generated during high-temperature cooking. In particular, grilling, broiling, roasting, searing, and frying promote and accelerate new AGE formation. Animal-derived foods high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new formation of AGEs during cooking. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking. (4, 5)
Modern diets are largely heat-processed and as a result, they contain high levels of these advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These are known to contribute to increased inflammation and oxidative stress, which are linked to common disorders like diabetes and cardiovascular issues in adults. AGEs are considered a driver of premature aging and age-related diseases. (4, 5)
The Mount Sinai survey took a closer look at children, AGEs, and asthma, a type of inflammation. “We found that higher consumption of dietary AGEs, which are largely derived from intake of non-seafood meats, was associated with increased risk of wheezing in children, regardless of overall diet quality or an established diagnosis of asthma,” said Jing Gennie Wang, MD, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. (4)
Other studies have shown inconsistent results with dietary meat intake and the risk of asthma in children. A team headed up by Dr. Dan Zhang reviewed and assessed 9 published articles, and findings indicated that dietary meat intake most probably is not a risk factor for asthma in children. It’s clear that more studies are needed to further assess the association between meat intake and asthma risk in children.
A study performed by Webb et al suggested that meat consumption has become common among 18-month-old children. Previous studies have reported the effect of meat intake on the risk of asthma in children. However, based on their findings, the current view of the role of meat in asthma in children is not yet clear. (6, 7)
Increasing interest in the effects of diet on children, especially in their early years, has generated numerous studies on diet as it relates to asthma. The focus on meat, especially red meat, has thrown new light on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. The Western diet, which includes a high intake of refined grains, processed and red meats, and desserts, tends to have inflammatory effects. On the contrary, the Mediterranean diet, with its high consumption of healthy fats and vegetables offers anti-inflammatory properties. (8)
The foods included in the Mediterranean diet that offered the most protective effect were vegetables (eaten more than eight times a week), fish (two to three times a week), and beans (more than once a week). However, eating red meat more than three to four times a week raised the risk of persistent and atopic wheeze in the children. (9)
A final comment about childhood asthma must include the parents and caregivers of this age group. Exposure to some foods too early in a child’s development may increase the likelihood of developing sensitivities as the child ages. These can act as triggers when dealing with a potentially asthmatic child. Knowing the correlation between nutritional habits and asthma is important in promoting healthy eating. (10)
- Asthma. Who.int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asthma. Published 2021.
- Most recent asthma data available from CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/most_recent_data.htm Published 2021.
- Ling Ang, K. and Foo, S. (2001), “Childhood asthma and dietary management among Singapore parents”, Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 31 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/nfs.2001.01731faf.001
- Jing Gennie Wang, et al, “Increased advanced glycation end product and meat consumption is associated with childhood wheeze: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.” Thorax, Nov 2020 DOI: 10.1136/thoraxjnl-2020-216109
- J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun; 110(6): 911–16.e12. DOI:10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018
- Medicine (Baltimore). 2020 Jan; 99(1): e18235. Published online 2020 Jan 3. DOI: 10.1097/MD.0000000000018235
- Webb K, Rutishauser I, Katz T et al. Meat consumption among 18-month-old children participating in the Childhood Asthma Prevention Study. Monash University. https://research.monash.edu/en/publications/meat-consumption-among-18-month-old-children-participating-in-the Published 2021.
- Guilleminault L, Williams EJ, Scott HA, Berthon BS, Jensen M, Wood LG. Diet and Asthma: Is It Time to Adapt Our Message? Nutrients. 2017; 9(11):1227. DOI: 10.3390/nu9111227
- Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 38 No. 4. “Mediterranean diet fights childhood allergy”, https://doi.org/10.1108/nfs.2008.01738dab.007
- Webb K, Rutishauser I, Katz T et al. Meat consumption among 18-month-old children participating in the Childhood Asthma Prevention Study. Monash University. https://research.monash.edu/en/publications/meat-consumption-among-18-month-old-children-participating-in-the. Published 2021.