The compounds, known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short, are by-products of high temperature cooking, such as grilling, frying, or roasting, with cooked meat a major dietary source.
AGEs lock on to particular 'danger signal' cells in the body, which are particularly abundant in the lungs, triggering an inflammatory immune system response. But it's not clear how they might influence the development of respiratory symptoms.
To explore this further, researchers at the University of Queen Mary in London examined children from the 2003 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and any associations between their intake of advanced glycation end products (AGE) and meat consumption frequencies and respiratory symptoms.
NHANES is a nationally representative annual survey assessing the health and nutrition of the US population.
The researchers looked at 4388 children aged 2-17 years, for whom information on dietary patterns, assessed by the 139-item Food Frequency Questionnaire, and respiratory symptoms were available. The quantity of AGEs consumed was calculated from the responses to the Food Frequency Questionnaire.
Some 537 (13%) of children said they had experienced wheezing over the past year. After accounting for potentially influential factors, such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, household income, weight (BMI), and asthma, higher AGE scores were significantly associated with increased odds of wheezing (18%).
They were also associated with increased odds of disturbed sleep due to wheezing (26%) at least once; wheezing during exercise (34%); and wheezing requiring medication (35%) over the past year.
Similarly, higher intake of all types of meats was associated with more than doubling the odds of sleep disrupted by wheezing and the need for medication to ease symptoms.
This is an observational study and so can't establish cause, added to which there is no validated method of measuring AGE intake, cautioned the researchers. But the findings back those of other research linking a proinflammatory dietary pattern and wheezing, they say.
"As several cohort studies have suggested an adverse effect of meat consumption on paediatric airways health, confirmation of a positive correlation between AGE intake and non-seafood meat consumption in our cohort strengthens our a priori hypothesis that dietary AGEs may have an important role in airway inflammation in children," they wrote.
The Western dietary pattern, characterised by high levels of AGE-rich foods--meats and saturated fats, may promote an inflammatory cascade, so contributing to airway inflammation and possibly the development of asthma, they suggested.
In a linked editorial, Professor Jonathan Grigg, Centre for Child Health, University of Queen Mary, London, observed that a growing body of evidence implicates AGEs in the development of asthma.
"Although we are far from having enough evidence to recommend changes in meat consumption in children in order to reduce asthma, a focus on adverse respiratory effects of consuming large amounts of cooked meats resonates with wider agendas," he suggested.
This includes the 2020 UK Health Alliance on Climate Change report which concluded that red meat consumption will need to be halved if the food system is to stay within sustainable environmental limits.
"Irrespective of the adverse health effects of AGEs, it may therefore now be time to advocate a diet with smaller amounts of higher-quality and more sustainable cooked meat," he concluded.
Increased advanced glycation end product and meat consumption is associated with childhood wheeze: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Authors: Jing Gennie Wang, Bian Liu, Francesca Kroll, Corrine Hanson, Alfin Vicencio, Steven Coca, Jaime Uribarri, Sonali Bose
Advanced glycation end products and wheeze: a plausible association?