Eating processed meat may worsen asthma symptoms

Bacon sandwich

When: 11 Mar 2013

Bacon sandwich When: 11 Mar 2013



Eating a lot of cured and processed meat may make asthma symptoms worse.

For a new study, led by theInserm Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif, France, researchers utilised data from participants in the French Epidemiological study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma (EGEA).

Analysing results from nearly 1,000 French people, they found that consuming more than four portions of processed meat a week, puts people at risk of having an asthma attack.

To measure the participants’ diet, the research team used food frequency questionnaires, asking about their intake of cured meats, such as sausage, ham and salami. Consumption of one or fewer servings a week was classified as low, intake of one to four servings as medium, while four or more servings was considered to be high. The investigators also looked at asthma symptoms, including breathlessness, wheeze and chest tightness.

After looking into the collected data, the researchers discovered that 14 per cent of the participants who consumed one or less servings of cured meat had worse asthma symptoms, compared to 20 per cent of those who ate one to four servings a week, and 22 per cent of those who consumed four or more weekly servings.

When the researchers took into account lifestyle factors like smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex and education, they estimated that the chances of worsening asthma symptoms for participants who ate the most cured meats were 76 per cent higher than those who ate the least processed meats.

The researchers believe it could be a preservative called nitrite used in meats such as sausages, salami and ham that aggravates the airways.

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

The researchers noted that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. However, research from other countries points to a potential role for cured or processed meats in lung function and health.

“This research extends the deleterious effect of cured meat on health, and the effect of diet on asthma in adults, and provides a novel analytic approach regarding the role of BMI in the diet-asthma association,” they conclude.

The study was published in the journal Thorax.

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