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Health News Archive 664 - Asthma
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Omega-3 and Antioxidants Reduce Asthma Risk

A diet rich in fruit, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic bronchitis symptoms, and wheezing, reports a new study.  The research, published in the July 2007 issue of the journal Chest, adds to a growing body of science supporting that a healthy diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins is good for asthma.

"Our study, as well as other research, suggests that higher intakes of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory micronutrients are associated with lower reports of cough, respiratory infections, and less severe asthma-related symptoms," said lead author Jane Burns, from Harvard School of Public Health.

According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma. The condition is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days, while the annual economic cost of asthma is said to be over $16.1 billion. "Teenagers who have low dietary intakes of fruit, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids are at greater risk of having asthma, emphasizing the importance of a balanced diet, composed of whole foods," Dr Burns added.

The researchers recruited 2,112 students aged 16 to 18 in 12 communities around the US and Canada. The group consisted of 33 percent were overweight, 72 percent did not consume multivitamins, and about 25 percent were daily smokers. Researchers assessed the diet of the students using a standardized respiratory questionnaire and a dietary questionnaire. They also answered questions about medication use, smoking habits, and recent exercise, before participating in lung function testing.

"During late adolescence, physical stature has, on average, been attained and lung growth closely parallels this growth. Therefore we were observing a time when lung function was close to its optimal capacity," said Burns.  "Also, although our diet survey targeted eating habits only during the past year, it did give us some idea of the teens' general past diet. However, their current respiratory health may be a reflection of diet during childhood, as well as during the past year," she said.

The researchers report that at least one third of the students' diets were below the recommended levels of fruit, vegetable, vitamins A and E, beta-carotene, and omega-3 fatty acid intake.  "Vitamin supplements can help teens meet their daily recommended levels," said Dr. Burns, "and surprisingly, even relatively low levels of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to protect teens from higher reported respiratory symptoms."

Results showed that low dietary intakes of fruit, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids were associated with decreased lung function and a greater risk of chronic bronchitis symptoms, wheezing, and asthma. These risks were further increased among students with the lowest intakes and who also smoked.

It has previously been proposed that the beneficial effect of fruit may come from the flavonoids content, said the researchers, while fish's protective effect may come from omega-3 fatty acids. Other studies have suggested these have a protective effect against heart diseases and asthma.  The research is in-line with previous studies that looked at the effects of diet on asthma development. During the past year, studies have been published that report increased intake of vitamins C and E, with some research suggesting that the mother's intake of such nutrients during pregnancy may have lifelong benefits for the respiratory health of the offspring.

Commenting independently on the research, Mark Rosen, president of the American College of Chest Physicians said: "A balanced diet is not only good for lung health, but for general health. Parents and physicians should work together to monitor and maintain healthy diets and lifestyles for children of all ages."

Source: Chest; July 2007, Volume 132, Issue 1

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