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Diet and childhood asthma: friends or enemies?

A group of researchers at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid belonging to the Moncloa Campus within the Agri-Food and Health cluster has studied how fat intake at early years affect to the prevalence of asthma.


A group of researchers at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid belonging to the Moncloa Campus within the Agri-Food and Health cluster has studied how fat intake at early years affect to the prevalence of asthma.

A high intake of saturated fats and an excessive consumption of butter, which is a food rich in them, have been associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma.

In the last years there has been an increase in the prevalence of asthma among children, which could be related to environmental factors such as the change in dietary habits. Particularly, a notable increase in fat intake, especially saturated fats, has been observed in developed countries. Having in mind this situation, a pioneer study in Spain was carried out. This research collected data from 638 school children between 8 and 13 years from 14 different schools in Madrid and analyzed the association between the intake of fat, fatty acids and foods rich in fats and the risk of asthma in schoolchildren.

According with the results of this study, students with a daily intake of fat higher than 44.3% of total energy intake were almost three times more likely to suffer asthma than children with contributions lower than 40.3 %. In this way the authors of this study highlight the importance of following diets with adequate amounts of fat and indicate that this macronutrient must contribute between 30-35% of energy intake. In addition, it is also important to control not only the amount of fat intake, but also the type of fat consumed. Thus, owing to the fact that schoolchildren with higher dietary contributions of saturated fat had 10 times more risk of asthma than those with lower contributions, children should reduce this intake, especially because they are consuming almost twice of the recommended daily amount in many cases. To achieve this objective, authors recommend reducing the consumption of foods such as industrial baked goods, animal foods as tallow, cream or butter, snacks, sauces and ready to eat meals because sometimes they are made with coconut and palm oils, which are rich in these fats.

Special attention should be paid in butter because, in this study, schoolchildren who ate more than 5.3 grams per day of this food were three times more likely to developing asthma than those who ate less than 2.5 grams daily. Specifically, butter is the main source of two saturated fatty acids called myristic and palmitic acids, for which a negative association was also found with asthma. Briefly, the mechanism by which these fatty acids increase the risk of asthma is because "its presence in the organism could increase inflammatory mediators that narrow the small airways of the lung, favoring the development of asthma".

Moreover, the study's authors also highlight the fact that not all fats are bad for asthma, and declare that "although they have not found any relationship, many studies have shown that omega 3 fatty acids family could protect against the condition of this disease in the body by decreasing the production of inflammatory mediators". Therefore they recommend an adequate intake of omega-3, including oily fish- such as anchovies, sardines, salmon or tuna-at least 3 times a week.

Finally, based on a currently research carried out on asthma in children, the authors also advise about following diets rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables: "These foods are important sources of antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and flavonoids, which raise the total antioxidant capacity of the diet, that seems to have a protective role against childhood asthma".

Summarizing, the results obtained by the authors reveal that, in order to prevent the onset of asthma episodes in children, it is advisable to decrease the consumption of industrial baked goods, salty snacks, sauces, ready to eat meals, tallow, cream and butter and increase consumption of foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (oily fishes), as well as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

This is a winning article of the Outreach Awards 2012 in the category of scientific articles and in the subcategory of the cluster Agri-Food and Health organized by the Moncloa Campus.

Authors of the article: Elena Rodríguez Rodríguez y Rosa María Ortega Anta

Tag: Agri-Food and Health    Source: CEI Campus Moncloa

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More information in the ”œEuropean Journal of Clinical Nutrition” (2010; 64(10):1065-71) and in the Chapter 10 of the course Magíster Universitario en Nutrición y dietética para la promoción de la salud

Jury´s decision Campus Moncloa Outreach Awards

Ministry of Education, Culture & Sports CEI Campus of International Excellence Ministry of Economy & Competitiveness
Funded project by the Ministry of Education, Culture & Sports, and the Ministry of Economy & Competitiveness within the framework of the Campus of International Excellence
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