Research on fibre supplements in humans to treat asthma - a world first - has had positive results and could become a complementary, non-pharmacological treatment for people with poorly managed asthma. The research is being presented for the first time today at the Thoracic Society for Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) Annual Scientific Meeting in Canberra.
“This is the first time anyone has looked at the impact of altering the gut microbiome on asthma control in humans. We’re at the tip of a new paradigm for how diet can be used to treat asthma” said Professor Peter Gibson, President of TSANZ, speaking from the conference.
“This ground-breaking research offers hope of a viable, complementary treatment for tens of millions of asthmatics around the world struggling to control their asthma with existing medications,” said lead researcher, University of Newcastle’s Professor Lisa Wood.
An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, with 250,000 annual deaths attributed to the disease(1). Australia has around 2.3/2.4 million people living with asthma and nearly half of these are failing to control their disease(2). Total government costs due to asthma for 1990-2015 were $30.6 billion and are projected at $4.0 billion for 2016-2019(3).
The study, conducted by the University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs, gave a number of stable asthmatics daily supplements with inulin, a soluble fibre supplement. Changes in asthma control (ACQ), lung function (FEV1), and gut microbiota were then monitored.
It found that fibre supplements altered the gut microbiome which in turn had a positive effect on asthma control and reduced airway inflammation. The treatment was most effective in people who were poorly controlled at the start of the intervention.
Another study being presented by the group examined the impact of fatty foods on asthma and found that as little as a single meal high in saturated fats worsens inflammation. This results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs, and leads to asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
The body of research holds particular significance for obese asthmatics, who have some of the poorest diets and health outcomes for asthma.
“For many obese asthmatics, using puffers to control their asthma simply isn’t working and it has doctors baffled” said Professor Gibson.
“With almost two out of three adult Australians obese or overweight, this is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. These studies - which shed light on how diet can impact asthma by its effect on the gut microbiome and airway inflammation - hold particular significance for this group” he said.
However, the researchers are keen to emphasise the important messages these studies hold for all Australians.
“More and more we are learning about how our Westernised, highly processed diet is negatively impacting our health. These studies show both how diets high in fat can worsen asthma, and how – conversely – a diet high in soluble fibre can help manage it. It illustrates just how vitally important it is that Australians eat a healthily and how fundamental healthy gut bacteria are to our well being” said Professor Wood.
The Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) is the only health peak body representing a range of professions (medical specialists, scientists, researchers, academics, nurses, physiotherapists, students and others) across various disciplines within the respiratory/sleep medicine field in Australia and New Zealand. The TSANZ is a Health Promotion Charity. TSANZ is committed to serving the professional needs of its members by improving knowledge and understanding of lung disease, with the ultimate goals being to prevent respiratory illness through research and health promotion and to improve health care for people with respiratory illness.
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