By Alexandra Zissu, Editorial Director
America’s asthma epidemic continues to grow at an alarming pace. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 12 adults and one in 10 children now suffer from asthma. A little perspective: These rates are up around 25 percent from 2001.
Recent evidence presented by Dr. Gregory Diette of Johns Hopkins (as part of the EPA/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Children’s Centers 2012 Webinar Series) suggests that the two key culprits include: certain types of indoor air pollution and diet. Correcting them—which is pretty easy to do—may help ease or prevent asthma.
Dr. Diette discussed new studies that looked at two major indoor air pollutants: particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2). PM is microscopic particles of things like dust, dirt, smoke and soot. NO2 is produced by tobacco products, kerosene heaters, as well as gas stoves and heaters.
In the first study, researchers tested the air in bedrooms of asthmatic Baltimore children who lived with a smoker. The higher their PM levels, the greater the odds the child experienced severe asthma symptoms. Daily use of HEPA air filtration in the bedrooms was found to decrease PM by up to 50 percent, which presumably helped ease asthma attacks. A separate project found that NO2 in indoor air was associated with increased incidences of asthma. NO2 levels were significantly reduced by replacing gas stoves with electric models, venting gas stoves to the outside, and using air purifiers. These are steps families with asthma sufferers should consider as well.
Dr. Diette also discussed new research looking at diet and asthma. Western diets based on red meat and refined grains as well as high-fat and high-sugar foods are associated with higher asthma risk. A Mediterranean diet emphasizing olive oil, legumes, whole grains, fish, fruit, and vegetables was linked to lower risk. These findings suggest that switching to a Mediterranean diet could help ease asthma attacks.
While none of these studies provide conclusive evidence that cleaning indoor air and eating healthier can ease or prevent children’s asthma, it makes sense that they do. It’s not like doing either has downsides, so trying them seems worthwhile.