A study of 971, middle-aged French research participants found there was a direct correlation between increased consumption of processed meat and “worsening asthma symptoms”.
Just four portions of processed meat per week – such as ham, salami, sausages or bacon – could exacerbate asthma, the study published in journal Thorax claimed.
Cured and processed meats rich in the chemical nitrite – used by meat processors to add colour and prolong product shelf life – may lead to stress in the airwaves, something that can spark asthma attacks, the study asserted.
“This is an interesting study suggesting a potential link between the consumption of cured meats and the aggravation of asthma symptoms in some people. However, it does not show a definite cause-and-effect from eating processed meats,” said Dr Erika Kennington, head of research at Asthma UK.
“Although certain foods can be triggers for allergies in some people, there is no specific dietary advice to manage asthma symptoms generally. For most people with asthma, healthy eating advice is exactly the same as it is for everyone else: follow a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh and unprocessed food and is low in sugar, salt and saturated fat.”
Commenting on the report, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), said: “The report was not a clinical trial and has not confirmed a direct link between processed meat and asthma. In the UK, the average daily consumption of processed meat is 15.9g, which is below the recommended WHO maximum levels, and we continue to emphasise the importance of a balanced diet as red meat is rich in many nutrients.”
The French study tracked people for at least six years and 20% of participants reported worsening asthma conditions in follow-up assessments. Researchers claimed they had factored other aspects – such as smoking, obesity, exercise levels and age – into consideration.
The study is the first prospective research carried out on the association between processed meat consumption and asthma symptoms.
In October 2015, the World Health Organization published a report that claimed consumption of processed meat increased the risk of cancer. The study had a considerable impact on the meat industry, with pork – particularly bacon and sausages – seeing a drop in sales in the UK.
Nick Allen, market development director for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), told this site: “The conflicting stories in the pages of today’s national media demonstrate just how confusing messaging is for consumers on red and processed meat.
“In one story today, a review of clinical trials at Purdue University in the US found no evidence to support claims that red meat contributes to heart disease or increased blood pressure. On the contrary, it suggested that red meat was a good source of many nutrients.
“A separate observational study, published in Thorax, in France, suggests a link between processed meat and asthma. This is not, though, a clinical trial. It merely suggests an association and there are many other factors that could be affecting the results.
“There is therefore no evidence from this study that directly links eating processed meat with increased risk or severity of asthma attacks.”