This post was originally published on January 7, 2019, and updated on May 7, 2019.
Over 300 million people around the world are affected by asthma, and the disease contributes to approximately 400,000 deaths every year. The Canadian Lung Association defines asthma as a chronic condition where the airways swell and fill with mucus. This causes the passages for air to travel through to narrow, resulting in sensitive airways that make it difficult to breathe.
As a chronic disease, asthma is something that must be dealt with throughout an individual’s entire life. However, there are ways to decrease the symptoms or risk of asthma. We highlight some of these unique recommendations below.
10 things you may not know about asthma
1. Vitamin D decreases the rate of asthma exacerbations
Acute asthma exacerbations are when symptoms worsen due to viral upper respiratory infections further aggravating the sensitive airways. Most mortality rates associated with asthma are due to asthma exacerbations. A study in 2017 found that vitamin D supplements decreased the rate of asthma exacerbations when compared to a placebo. Though it was not a statistically significant reduction, the study showed promise as a potential future cost-effective strategy for asthma exacerbation management.
2. Air pollution levels correlate to the number of asthma cases
It is no surprise that in urbanized areas, there is an increase in chemicals in the air due to pollution. Along with other factors such as socioeconomic status, education, and family, the environment plays a huge role in the management of asthma. Researchers from Columbia University further explored this relationship and found that a higher number of asthma cases requiring emergency care were linked to environments with greater levels of air pollution. Another significant finding indicated that children who grew up in low pollution areas were more likely to be later affected by pollution and more likely to have asthmatic attacks.
3. Asthma also affects your heart
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is when an individual has as an irregular heartbeat. This may lead to increased incidence of blood clots, stroke, or worsening cardiovascular outcomes. For the first time, a recent study done in 2018 evaluated the potential relationship between asthma and the risk of developing AF. Results showed a positive correlation of asthma patients carrying a higher risk of developing AF. Even more interestingly, those who had their asthma under control had a slightly lower risk of having AF. More research is needed before establishing a firm relationship between the two diseases, but the current results show promise. It is noted that this relationship may be explained by common inflammatory pathways between the two conditions.
4. Asthma may contribute to the rising levels of obesity
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 40% of Americans are obese. The relationship between asthma and obesity is not often thought of, but a European study found children diagnosed with asthma to be 66% more likely of becoming obese in the future. Researchers believe this correlation exists because children with asthma deter from physical activity due to their trouble breathing and thus, eventually have an accumulation of fat in their body. The consistent inhalations of corticosteroids as symptom management may also be another cause.
5. Physical exercise can help decrease asthma symptoms
PLOS ONE published the findings of Canadian researchers who explored the potential effects of physical exercise on asthma symptoms. The researchers found that physical activity, regardless of age group, reduced the prevalence and frequency of nighttime asthma symptoms and improved quality of sleep. Participants who engaged in physical activity for a longer period of time even showed improvements in their asthma symptoms. The study reported that medication use was not taken into consideration, which may have affected the results; nonetheless, it was concluded that the benefits of physical activity extended clearly into the relief of asthmatic symptoms, especially at night.
6. High fructose content is likely raising your chances of developing asthma
In some individuals, the overconsumption of high-fructose corn syrup causes the production of inflammatory products that bind to receptors involved in asthma. Researchers used over 30 years of data collection from the Framingham Heart Study-Offspring cohort in the USA to study the consumption levels of high-fructose corn syrup through non-diet soda and their possible connection to asthma development.
Overall, the data showed that 13.5% of individuals developed asthma and the risk of those who consumed non-diet soda five to seven times per week had a 49% higher risk than those who rarely consumed it. Similarly, those who drank apple juice two to four times a week had a 61% higher risk of developing asthma. The study noted that both orange juice and non-diet soda showed no links to asthma.
7. Fast-food diets worsen asthma symptoms
In keeping with consuming high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup, researchers sought to find the link between fast food diets and the severity of asthma and wheezing problems. A clear link was found where individuals who more frequently consumed fast foods experienced severe asthma and wheezing problems. Increasing the prevalence eaten directly increased the risk of developing the problems. Interestingly, the research showed that specifically, hamburgers in a fast food diet increased the risk. Furthermore, they found that body mass index (BMI) was also connected in fast food consumption and asthma and wheezing problems. The higher the BMI, the more likely an individual was to experience the issues. It was concluded that fast food diets should be limited to reduce the risk of these specific health issues.
8. Thunderstorms can induce asthma attacks
As mentioned earlier, the environment plays a factor in the development and risk of asthmatic symptoms. However, a thunderstorm is not often thought of as the cause of this. A study in Australia discovered the process of how exactly a thunderstorm-induced asthma attack occurs. As the fast winds carry large amounts of pollen across distances in a humid environment, the pollen grains absorb moisture. This causes them to swell and burst, consequently releasing hundreds of tiny pollen grain fragments into the air. The fragments are inhaled into the lower respiratory tract, causing an inflammatory response in individuals with asthma and triggering an attack. Thankfully, technology is being developed to warn susceptible civilians of such potential events.
9. Eating fish protects against asthma
Inspired by the Mediterranean diet, researchers recently studied a connection between fish with high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids and asthma prevention. The Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics published the results that found significantly less bronchial inflammation in the group who ate fatty fish roughly twice a week on the Mediterranean diet. However, when assessing the quality of life the diet had between the two groups, there were no significant differences. The research may suggest that the higher consumption of these healthy fats may be a factor in reducing the bronchial inflammation but more research is needed to confirm the correlation.
10. Childhood asthma may be caused by specific DNA changes
Epigenetics is the modification of an existing DNA structure that causes genes to function differently. This occurs through the body’s natural ability to turn genes on or off by adding a methyl group to specific branches in the DNA helio-structure. In what is believed to be the largest epigenetic study of asthma to date, researchers collected over 1,500 blood samples from children. Through this data, they discovered that 27 methylated or “altered” sites related to childhood asthma. Primarily, they were found at the cytosine and guanine base. Additional research of over 3,000 more blood samples confirmed these sites. This research has opened up numerous opportunities in the genetic field for further research into improving asthma treatment.
Written by Stephanie C. Tsang
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