Processed Meats Could Worsen Asthma, Study Warns

A new study is giving fresh reason to fret about cured or processed meats such as salami, ham, and sausages. Regularly eating cured meats might make asthma worse, warns the study by French researchers.

The study of nearly 1,000 French people found a link between frequent consumption of cured meat and worsening asthma symptoms.

For the study, lead researcher Dr. Zhen Li, a PhD Student at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, and colleagues looked at 971 people with the respiratory disease who had been taking part in a decade-long French survey about food and health, and compared them with the control subjects.

To measure participants’ diet, the research team used food frequency questionnaires, asking about their intake of cured meats, such as sausage, ham and salami. Consumption of one or fewer servings a week was classified as low; intake of one to four servings as medium; and four or more as high.

The investigators also looked at asthma symptoms like breathlessness, wheeze, chest tightness.

After analyzing the collected data, the researchers found that 14 percent of the participants who consumed one or less servings of cured meat had worse asthma symptoms, compared to 20 percent of those who ate one to four servings a week, and 22 percent of those who consumed four or more weekly servings.

When the researchers took into account lifestyle factors like smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex and education, they estimated that the odds of worsening asthma symptoms for participants who ate the most cured meats were 76 percent higher than those who ate the least processed meats.

If you didn’t know already, food companies put in chemicals called nitrites in the cured meats to keep them from spoiling and preserve their color, which in turn cause potentially serious diseases, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). More worryingly, these meats are recently classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organization (WHO), affirmed Dr. Li, who is with Inserm Paul Brousse Hospital in Villejuif, France.

“But there remains a gap regarding the spread of knowledge about the harms of processed meat from the research community to the public,” said Li.

Li cautioned that this study is observational and cannot prove that consumption of processed meats worsens asthma. According to Li, they have only observed an association between the two in a certain set of people, still, she stressed, “public health strategies are warranted to reduce cured and processed meat intake.”

“Nothing is lost by doing so,” she said.

The study was published online Dec. 20 in the journal Thorax.

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