Do you love to gorge processed meat like suya, kilisi, ham or sausage? Beware, a new study has suggested that higher intake of such processed meats can worsen asthma symptoms.
Experts found that in individuals who consume four or more weekly servings of cured and processed meat were 76 per cent more likely to experience worsening asthma symptoms. This could include difficulty in breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Processed meat refers to meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives, thereby producing compounds called nitrites. Examples include ham, bacon, hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.
What’s so bad about ‘processed food’?
President, Nigerian Thoracic Society, Professor Etete Peters, said cured and processed meat has been found to be general unhealthy for consumption because of the method of their processing.
“They contain a lot of additives and chemicals that could be injurious to health, not only for asthmatics. These meats have been linked to a higher risk of other chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently classified them as carcinogenic, or cancer-causing,” said Professor Peters.
Professor Peters mentioned commonly consumed processed meat as suya, kilisi and others are also deleterious to health because of the method of their processing.
“It passes though a lot of raw processing, smoke and additives and in some cases you have some spices added to it. People can react to it. It is not as if every asthmatic that takes it will react to it, but there is a tendency for some people to react because of the method of preparation, the smoke, oil or other additives used in preparing it.”
Peters, also the Chief Medical Director of the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital, raised the possibility of exposure to contaminants from the air and dust when suya is openly displayed for sale by the road side as well as cockroach droppings from the paper used to wrap suya or kilisi also aggravating asthma attack.
“This is why we advise that people consume fresh products, rather than processed ones that could have been stored poorly or for a long period of time,” he declared.
Dr Olanisun Adewole, a consultant chest physician, Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospitals Complex, Ile-Ife, Osun State explained that exposure to smoke in the process of preparing suya as well as additives to it can worsen asthmatic symptoms.
“Some additives of processed meat, especially when highly salted or spiced, work on the bronchial wall, cause water retention in some asthmatics and thus precipitate asthma symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, chest tightness and shortness of breath.
“It is just the same thing that happens when some people eat foods like egg and peanuts. But the group of people that are liable to such reactions are not as many as that from peanuts or eggs. So, there are some individual variability in asthma attacks,” Adewole stated.
Basically, he declared that asthmatics are usually urged to know their asthma triggers, including food items, and to avoid them. They are also advised to avoid common asthma triggers like fume, smoke and environment with high level of humidity.
To find out if dietary processed meat intake was associated with the worsening of asthma symptoms over time, the researchers drew the data from participants in the French Epidemiological study on the Genetics and Environment of Asthma (EGEA).
This has been tracking the health through surveys and medical examination of more than 2000 asthma patients, their close relatives, and a comparison group from five cities in France for more than 20 years.
The researchers focused on 971 people for whom complete dietary, weight, asthma symptom scores and demographic data were obtained until 2011 and 2013. Diet was measured using food frequency questionnaires.
Information was also gathered on other potentially influential factors, such as smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex, and educational attainment.
After taking into account smoking, regular physical activity, age, sex and education, the researchers calculated that people who ate the most cured meats were 76 per cent more likely to have worsening asthma symptoms, compared with those who ate the least.
Are sausages bad for you?
Among those who ate one or less servings of processed or cured meat, 14 per cent reported worse asthma symptoms. Among those eating one to four servings a week, 20 per cent said their asthma symptoms had worsened.
The findings published online on December 20 in the journal Thorax also showed that in the group eating four or more weekly servings, 22 per cent reported worsening asthma.
Also, being overweight or obese that has been linked to worsening asthma, accounted for only 14 per cent of this association, suggesting that processed meat may have an independent role in asthma symptoms.
The WHO says that asthma affects 235 million people worldwide. Its common triggers include: indoor allergens, such as dust mites and pet dander; outdoor allergens, such as pollen; tobacco smoke; and chemical irritants in the workplace.
Nonetheless, the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Zhen Li cautioned that this study cannot prove that eating cured meats makes asthma worse, only that an association exists.
Still, “public health strategies are warranted to reduce cured and processed meat intake,” Li said.
All things being equal, the British Heart Foundation said red meat could still be eaten as part of a balanced diet. Leaner cuts and the use of healthier cooking methods such as grilling are better.