High Intake of Processed and Cured Meat Can Make Asthma Worse

Posted 02/28/2017 | By HealthCorps

In late 2015, the WHO added cured and processed meat to their list of cancer-causing agents.  French researchers decided to look at this group of meats and any link to other health conditions like asthma.

The researchers used data from the French Epidemiological Study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma (EGEA).  Out of 971 subjects, 42% were found to have asthma.  Among that group, consumption of cured and processed meats appeared to worsen asthma symptoms in 20 percent of individuals over a seven year period.  When individuals with the worst asthma symptoms were separated out further, 22% were found to have the highest consumption of cured and processed meats.  

The researchers identified ham, sausage and cured sausage as the three most popular types of cured and processed meats in France, and they identified “high intake” as having more than four servings of these meats per week. A serving size was either two slices of ham, one sausage or two slices of dried, cured sausage.

Prior research had shown a harmful link between cured meat intake and measures of lung health in several countries.  Based on these new findings, experts in France still feel that larger, randomized studies are needed to confirm the findings of this new observational study.  Certainly “eating healthy” applies to all individuals, but if you have a disease like asthma with many triggers that can instigate an attack or symptoms, it seems prudent to subscribe to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins, while limiting highly processed foods containing artificial colors and preservatives, sugar and saturated fat.

The researchers also shared that since obesity independently is linked to a higher risk of asthma, they controlled tightly for BMI levels.  They also categorized “once-a-week meat eaters” as non-exposed, using them as the reference or baseline group.  This is not ideal, since these subjects did eat some small level of cured meat. It was nearly impossible to find participants who ate zero amounts of these food items in that population.  The researchers also wondered if the nitrites in the processed are triggers of the asthma.  Nitrites cause oxidative stress and inflammation which could instigate symptoms.  Clearly more research is needed.

Asthma symptoms were measured based on the asthma symptom score which asks individuals about level of breathlessness, feelings of a tight chest, attacks of shortness of breath at rest or during exercise, using a scale of one to five.  Researchers also noted that the youngest participants were likely to have the highest consumption of cured meats, smoke, and have higher intake of saturated fat and sodium.

The take away should be that cured and processed meats should be considered treat foods that can be enjoyed occasionally.  They should not be consumed on a regular or even weekly basis, given what we know about the dangers nitrites, sodium and highly processed foods.

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