Med diet helps kids breathe easier - study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition, Asthma, Antioxidant

Getting children to consume a Mediterranean-style diet may reduce
their risk of asthma by up to 80 per cent, suggests new research.

The cross-sectional survey of 690 children aged between seven and 18 on the Greek island of Crete found that high consumption of nuts, grapes, oranges and tomatoes was associated with 50, 81, 70, and 68 per cent reductions in wheezing, respectively. "Our findings indicate that a high dietary intake of commonly consumed fruits and vegetables and nuts may have a protective role on the prevalence of asthma-like symptoms and allergic rhinitis,"​ wrote lead author Leda Chatzi from the University of Crete. The Med diet, rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil, has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet's main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals. It is these antioxidants and polyphenols that appear to offer protection, wrote the researchers in the British Medical Journal Thorax​. According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airway Diseases Patients Association (EFA), over 30m Europeans suffer from asthma, costing Europe €17.7bn every year. The cost due to lost productivity is estimated to be around €9.8bn. The condition is on the rise in the Western world and the most common long-term condition in the UK today According to the American Lung Association, almost 20m Americans suffer from asthma. The condition is reported to be responsible for over 14m lost school days in children, while the annual economic cost of asthma is said to be over $16.1bn. Whether the children ate a "Mediterranean" diet was measured against a set of 12 foodstuffs, including fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, legumes, nuts, and olive oil, assessed using a 58-item food frequency questionnaire. High adherence to the Mediterranean-style diet was associated with a 66 per cent reduction in allergic rhinitis (hay fever), a 46 per cent reduction in atopy (skin allergy), and a 39 per cent reduction in asthma-like symptoms, although the researchers state that the last two were not statistically significant. When the researchers, including collaborators from Veneselio General Hospital in Crete, Royal Brompton Hospital and National Heart and Lung Institute in London, and the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, looked at individual food items, they found that children who ate nuts at least three times a week were 46 per cent less likely to wheeze. And a daily diet of oranges, apples, and tomatoes also protected against wheezing with 70, 86, 68 per cent reductions, and oranges and kiwis offering protection against allergic rhinitis with 71 and 63 per cent reductions. "The growth of airways during childhood may be vulnerable to oxidative exposures; suboptimal antioxidant status during this critical period might result in oxidative airway damage, reductions in airway compliance, or both,"​ said the researchers. "Analyses of the dietary pattern of the traditional diet of Crete have shown a number of protective substances such as selenium, glutathione, resveratrol, a balanced ration of n-6:n-3 essential fatty acids, high amounts of fibre, polyphenols from olive oil, vitamins E and C. The majority of these have marked antioxidant activity,"​ they said. Commenting independently on the research, Leanne Male, assistant director of research at British charity Asthma UK said: "The results of this study add to the existing evidence which indicates that a healthy diet can play an important role in the control of asthma symptoms."The results demonstrate that the Mediterranean diet, which traditionally contains higher levels of fresh fruit and vegetables, can have a beneficial effect on asthma symptoms in children. This benefit is thought to be linked to the vitamins and antioxidants which they contain and Asthma UK is currently funding a number of research projects to further explore this association."​ Source: Thorax​ (British Medical Journal) Online First 2007, doi:10.1136/thx.2006.69419 "Protective effects of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete" ​Authors: L. Chatzi, G. Apostolaki, I. Bibakis, I. Skypala, V. Bibaki-Liakou, N. Tzanakis, M. Kogevinas, P. Cullinan

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