Dietary Patterns May Affect Asthma Risk and Lung Function

More than 26 million people in the United States have asthma, which affects Hispanics more than other racial/ethnic groups. A hallmark of asthma is airway swelling, in response to irritants such as dust and pollen, making it harder to breathe. An NIMHD-supported study found that for Hispanics, eating certain foods could also increase the risk of asthma and related symptoms. Among participants without asthma, eating a balanced, healthy diet was linked to better lung function.

The study included 12,687 Hispanic adults, 6.8% with asthma, from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Study participants completed surveys about what they had eaten over the preceding 24 hours on 2 different days. The investigators evaluated lung function by measuring how much air each participant could blow out after taking a deep breath. This test helps to detect asthma symptoms. The researchers used the data to calculate a “pro-inflammatory” diet score based on the Dietary inflammatory Index. Pro-inflammatory foods trigger processes in the body that normally occur in response to injury or harmful substances. In general, high-fat and high-sugar diets are pro-inflammatory, whereas high-fiber diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains help reduce inflammation. The researchers also measured how well each person’s diet aligned with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for a properly balanced, healthy diet.

For participants with asthma, eating a pro-inflammatory diet was associated with increased risk of having asthma symptoms and poorer lung function. Compared with other Hispanic/Latino subgroups, participants of Puerto Rican descent had more pro-inflammatory, less healthy dietary patterns and higher levels of asthma. The study also showed that a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet was associated with better lung function in Hispanic adults who do not have asthma.

These findings, along with earlier study results, could help explain the increased risk of asthma in Puerto Ricans. Other studies have shown that a healthy diet with a higher intake of whole grains and a lower intake of trans fat can improve asthma control. Examining one’s diet may be one step toward reducing asthma risk and improving lung function.

Han, Y. Y., Jerschow, E., Forno, E., Hua, S., Mossavar-Rahmani, Y., Perreira, K. M., . . . Celedón, J. C. (2020). Dietary patterns, asthma, and lung function in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Annals of the American Thoracic Society, 17(3), 293–301. doi:10.1513/AnnalsATS.201908-629OC

Page updated January 14, 2022