Cured Meats Could Aggravate Asthma, Study Suggests

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Dec 21, 2016 08:31 AM EST

Processed meats are displayed in a grocery store on October 26, 2015 in Miami, Florida. (Photo : Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

Researchers have find that eating cured meats such as ham and salami regularly might aggravate asthma.

The study conducted by French researchers on 1,000 people with the respiratory disease, found that those who ate more of processed and cured meats were 76 percent more likely to see their asthma symptoms worsen over time compared to those who ate the least.

The symptoms include trouble breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Cured meats have high contents of chemicals called nitrites which preserves and keep them from spoiling. They have been linked to higher risk of other chronic diseases, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The study's lead researcher, Dr. Zhen Li said they have been recently classified as "carcinogenic, or cancer-causing", by the World Health Organization (WHO). However, he stated that there remains a gap between research community and the public regarding the spread of knowledge about the harms of processed meat. 

The study cannot prove that eating cured meats worsens the symptoms of asthma, only that there is an association between the two. Still, public health strategies are warranted to reduce cured and processed meat intake, Li cautioned.

According to Health, Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York says, while no firm conclusion can be drawn from the study, there appears to be a correlation of worsening asthma symptoms and processed and cured meat. Horovitz is not involved in the research.

Dr. Li and his colleagues collected data from more than 2,000 people who took part in a French study that tracked the health of people with asthma and their close relatives for more than 20 years. The team focused on 971 people whose complete dietary, weight, asthma symptom scores and demographic data were obtained from 2011-2013.

The researchers measured Diet using food frequency questionnaires, they asked about consumption of cured meats, such as sausage, ham, and salami. Consumption was classified as low for one or fewer servings per week, medium for one to four servings and high for four or more.

They compared responses from two different periods of time, 2003-2007 and 2011-2013. In the period between 2011 and 2013, the researchers discovered that asthma symptoms had worsened for 20 percent of the study participants, according to Nwitimes.

The findings showed that 14 percent of those who ate less than one serving of processed or cured meat per week reported worsened asthma symptoms, while 20 percent of those who eat one to four servings a week and 22 percent of those who eat four or more weekly servings also reported worsened symptoms.

After taking into account age, sex, smoking, regular physical activities and education, the researchers concluded that people who ate the most quantity of cured meats were 76 percent more likely to have worsening asthma symptoms, compared to those who ate the least.

Being overweight or obese, which is also linked to worsening asthma symptoms, accounted for only 14 percent of this association, thus suggesting that processed meat may have an independent role in asthma symptoms, according to Dr. Li said.

He noted that there were limitations to the study as the dietary data and asthma symptoms were recalled by the participants, and memory is not at all times accurate.

The results and conclusions could be affected by smoking or other respiratory problems caused by chronic lung disease, which also has asthma-like symptoms. The study was published December 20, in the journal Thorax.

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