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Health News Archive 14 - Asthma
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Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Help Prevent Asthma

Increased dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent allergies and asthma in children, researchers have shown. Avoiding exposure to dust mites in the house also helps.

"Two factors thought to influence the risk of asthma are the promoting effect of sensitization to house dust mites and the preventive effect of increased omega-3 fatty acids," Dr. Seema Mihrshahi, of Children's Hospital at Westmead, Australia, and colleagues write in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

"Although house dust mite allergen avoidance has been used as a preventive strategy in several trials, the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in the...prevention of asthma and allergic disease is not known," they said.

To investigate, the researchers examined the effect of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids and avoidance of house dust mite allergen in 526 children with a family history of asthma. The subjects were enrolled before birth and were followed to 3 years of age.

Fatty acid supplementation seemed to reduce cough in children at risk for allergy. In contrast, no benefit was seen in kids not predisposed to allergy. In addition, limiting exposure to dust mites helped prevent allergies.

"These results suggest that our interventions, designed to be used in simple public health campaigns, may have a role in preventing the development of allergic sensitization and airways disease in early childhood," the investigators conclude.

SOURCE: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, October 2004.

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Antioxidants Benefit Asthma Sufferers

Free radical damage occurs excessively in people who suffer from asthma, indicating they may benefit from antioxidant supplements, according to a new study.

In the study, published in the January 2003 issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, scientists determined the blood levels of antioxidants and oxidants in 38 men and women with bronchial asthma compared to levels found in 23 healthy subjects. Oxidants are harmful molecules produced through the process of normal metabolism as well as through exposure to toxic substances such as cigarette smoke. Antioxidants–for example vitamins C and E and Pycnogenol -- are known to quench free radicals formed during the oxidation process and render them harmless.

In analyzing the blood samples, the study authors determined that the asthmatic patients experienced a disturbance in the balance between oxidants and antioxidants, with the scales tipping toward an excessive number of oxidants and therefore increased oxidative stress in the asthma subjects.

Earlier studies have shown that this disturbed balance between oxidant production and natural antioxidant defenses plays a role in the airway inflammation that causes the wheezing attacks, coughing and breathlessness experienced by asthmatics.

The researchers concluded that raising antioxidant levels in asthma patients – such as through supplementing with antioxidants – could alleviate some of the debilitating symptoms seen in asthma.

Source: Nadeem A, Chhabra SK, Masood A, Raj HG. Increased oxidative stress and altered levels of antioxidants in asthma. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003 Jan;111(1):72-8.

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Pycnogenol Beneficial for Asthma Sufferers

A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study was conducted with 12 women and 10 men between the ages of 18 to 50 who had suffered from asthma for 1 to 16 years.  Asthma patients were randomly assigned to either the Pycnogenol group, receiving 1 mg/lb/day (without exceeding 200 mg/day), or the placebo group, for four weeks.  Subjects then crossed over to the alternate group.  The airway function of the patients was assessed using a method called "forced expiration volume in 1 second" (FEV1) by means of an instrument called a spirometer. 

The asthma study was conducted by Ronald Watson, Ph.D., College of Public Health and School of Medicine, University of Arizona in Tucson.  It was published in 2001 in the Journal of Medicinal Food. 

The improvement of airway function was paralleled by a reduction of mediators called leukotrienes in the blood. The leukotrienes cause the inflammatory condition and constriction of bronchi, processes which are largely responsible for the airway obstruction in asthma. Pycnogenol® significantly reduced the leukotriene values, as compared to both baseline as well as placebo medication. Taking placebo tablets had no significant influence on leukotriene levels in the blood.

The severity of asthma symptoms was rated on a 4-point scale, ranging from mild intermittent form up to severe persistent form.  Before treatment and while receiving placebos, the mean symptom score of all patients was considered as being a "severe persistent" form.  After treatment with Pycnogenol the symptom severity score was significantly reduced to "moderate persistent."

Dr. Watson concludes that Pycnogenol® may be valuable in the management of asthma. Pycnogenol® was well-tolerated, and only one patient experienced gastrointestinal discomfort. This occurred during the first 3-4 days of the trial only.  Overall, the patients generally noted an improvement of their breathing ability when they received Pycnogenol®.

Journal of Medical Food, 2001;4(4):201-209. 

More info on Pycnogenol

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Selenium Plays Role in Flu Response in Mice

A diet deficient in the trace mineral selenium may result in a worse case of the flu, according to results of a April, 2001 study in mice. The findings underscore the importance of maintaining immune system health by eating a balanced diet.

However, supplementing your diet with extra selenium probably is not necessary because "the American diet contains sufficient selenium to protect against selenium deficiency with grain products [such as rice and wheat] and meats contributing the largest percentage of the total intake," said lead author Dr. Melinda A. Beck of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study, which was funded by the Nestle Corporation, is published in the April 27th issue of the FASEB Journal, a scientific journal published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

In the study, the team of researchers fed one group of mice a diet deficient in selenium and another group ate food with sufficient levels of the trace mineral. All the mice were then infected with a mild strain of an influenza virus. The selenium-deficient mice developed a more severe case of the flu, which was evident when their lungs were examined and found to be more inflamed as a result of the infection, the study indicates.

"The main findings are that a deficiency in selenium can lead to changes in the immune response of the host. These immune changes led to more severe lung damage when selenium-deficient [mice] were infected with influenza virus," the lead researcher stated.

In addition, the findings may have implications for the elderly or those with chronic heart or lung disease--groups that are also at risk for being undernourished and may lack sufficient selenium, according to the report. The investigators were able to show that specific changes in immune function were associated with selenium deficiency.

Selenium works as an antioxidant, which protects against oxygen free radicals--molecules produced by the body that can cause "oxidative damage" in the body. The researchers believe that a decrease in antioxidant protection is driving the immune changes that led to the lung damage seen in the study, Beck noted.

"We believe that it is important to have a diet that is adequate in antioxidant protection. Selenium functions as part of an enzyme that is involved in protecting cells from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage can come from a variety of sources [such as] sun exposure and smoking," Beck said.

SOURCE: FASEB Journal April 27, 2001.

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