Eating fruits may prevent asthma in children

Having plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet could prevent you from developing asthma, scientists claim. One can only say that the value of the nutrients found in fruits and the emphasis on the importance of consuming fruits and vegetables should not be taken lightly.

Children living in an area with a lack of healthy options are 53 per cent more at risk of having the common condition, new research suggests.

Experts say the findings are  worrisome as around one in ten children live in ‘food deserts’ – a poorer area with no fresh products for a mile.

Meanwhile, here in Nigeria, the common trend is either that so many of us pay little attention to taking fruits and vegetables because we do not know their benefits or that because of the economic hardship, we make excuses that we can’t afford them and when we can, we do not consume them the way we should.

Nutrient rich foods help ward off the condition by boosting the immune system, it is believed.

Asthma is a common lung condition that causes occasional breathing difficulties in both adults and children. It’s  the most common chronic disease in children and the prevalence is increasing around the world. The most common signs of asthma are:
Coughing, especially at night, during exercise or when laughing.
●  Difficulty breathing.
●  Chest tightness.
●  Shortness of breath.
●  Wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound in your chest when breathing, especially when exhaling)

There is currently no cure, but treatments are available to help keep the symptoms under control.
Figures suggest 5.4 million people in the UK suffer from it while eight per cent of the US is also believed to be affected.

Researchers from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) assessed the asthma rates of 2,043 children aged between six and 18.

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They found 57 per cent of the youngsters lived at least half a mile away from the nearest shop selling fruit and vegetables.

While one in ten were found to live at least one mile away – in a food desert.

Around 21 per cent of children who lived in a food desert had asthma – compared to 17 per cent of youngsters living in areas closer  to fresh fruits.

Lead researcher Maripaz Morales said “In this study, we have factored in the presence of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and obesity as other conditions that can affect asthma control.It’s difficult to get any kid to eat the right amount of fresh fruits and vegetables, but kids who live in a food desert are at an even greater disadvantage.”

He added that good nutrition is important for everyone – especially those suffering from asthma.

The body may be more susceptible to illness and respiratory viruses that can trigger asthma attacks as a result of a lack of nutrients, he added. But Dr Morales says more research needs to be done on the link between healthy foods and reducing the risk of asthma.

Previous research found eating plenty of fruit and vegetables helps to protect against asthma in mice. Those animals fed a diet high in fibre had less inflamed lungs when exposed to  house dust mites that trigger the condition. The new study was presented at the ACAAI annual scientific meeting.

Meanwhile, had in previous studies  shown that asthma can be prevented with fruits and vegetables. An enormous study about asthma and allergies in childhood was published that includes more than a million children in nearly a hundred countries, making it the most comprehensive survey of asthma and allergies ever undertaken. The researchers found striking worldwide variations in the prevalence and severity of asthma, allergies and eczema—a 20 to 60-fold difference in prevalence of symptoms of asthma, allergic runny nose, and atopic eczema around the world. The large variability suggests a crucial role of local characteristics that are determining the differences in prevalence between one place and another.

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Adolescents showed a consistent pattern of decreases in symptoms of wheezing (current and severe), allergic rhino conjunctivitis and atopic eczema with increases in per capita consumption of plant foods. The more their calories and protein came from plant sources, the less allergies they tended to have.

In general, there seems to be an association between an increase in asthma prevalence and a decrease in consumption of fresh fruits, green vegetables and other dietary sources of antioxidants, helping to explain why the prevalence of asthma and respiratory symptoms is lower in populations with high intake of foods of plant origin.

High intakes of fat and sodium and low intakes of fiber and carbohydrates are linked with asthma, while traditional and vegetarian diets are associated with lower rates. For example, if we look closer within India, in a study of more than 100,000 people, “those who consumed meat (daily or occasionally) were more likely to report asthma than those who were strictly vegetarian.” This also meant avoiding eggs.

Eggs have been associated (along with soft drink consumption) with increased risk of respiratory symptoms and asthma in schoolchildren. On the other hand, consumptions of soy foods and fruits were associated with reduced risk of respiratory symptoms. In fact, removing eggs and dairy from the diet may improve lung function in asthmatic children in as little as eight weeks. Therefore, it may be a combination of eating fewer animal foods and more of plant foods.

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High vegetable intake, for example, has been found protective in children, potentially cutting the odds of allergic asthma in half. And fruit has also shown a consistent protective association for current and severe wheezing and runny nose in adolescents and for current and severe asthma, allergies, and eczema in children.

One review notes that, “The dietary changes which have occurred over recent years may have led to a reduction in these natural antioxidant defenses, resulting in a shift of the antioxidant status of the whole population and leading to increased susceptibility to oxidant attack and airway inflammation.”

In adults, for example, the risk of airway hyper-reactivity may increase seven-fold among those with the lowest intake of vitamin C from plant foods, while those with the lowest intake of saturated fats may have a 10-fold protection, presumably because of saturated fat’s role in triggering inflammation. The protective effect of plant-based food may also be mediated through effects on intestinal microflora.

It turns out that differences in the indigenous intestinal flora might affect the development and priming of the immune system in early childhood. Kids with allergies, for example, tend to be less likely to harbor lactobacilli, the good bacteria that’s found in fermented foods and naturally on many fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus probiotics may actually help with childhood asthma, which may help explain why children raised on largely organic vegetarian diets may have a lower prevalence of allergic reactions.

Infants raised this way tend to have more good lactobacilli in their guts compared to controls, though they were also more likely to have been born naturally, breastfed longer and not being given antibiotics, so we can’t really tell if it’s the diet until we put it to the test.

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