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Lifestyle regime could prevent asthma

Published: 
6 June 2010

Researchers at the University of Southampton have found that it is possible to prevent asthma in those at high risk by avoiding highly allergenic foods and dust mites in the first few months of life.

Professor Syed Hasan Arshad and his team from the University’s School of Medicine have been monitoring 120 children since 1990 on the Isle of Wight at the David Hide Asthma and Allergy Research Centre. The children were considered to be at high risk of developing allergic disease on the basis that two or more family members had an allergic disorder.

“The 58 infants and their mothers in the prevention group followed a diet up to one year that avoided dairy products, egg, soya, fish, wheat and nuts”, says Professor Arshad. “We checked their compliance by randomly testing breast milk.”

The infants mattresses had vinyl covers, and acracide was used to reduce the level of house dust mite in the house. The mothers of the 62 infants in the control group did not make these changes.

Dr Martha Scott, also from the University of Southampton, presented the results of the 18 year follow-up at the congress of the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology today (6 June 2010). She reported that at one, two, four and eight years old, there was a consistent reduction in atopy (an immediate allergic reaction) in those children in the prevention group. At 18 years of age, there was significantly less asthma in the prevention group compared to the control group. A further analysis of allergic and non-allergic asthma found lower rates of allergic asthma in the prevention group.

Previous research has shown the complexity of asthma and the importance of the interaction between genetic and environmental factors particularly, but not exclusively, in the early years of life. Atopy is arguably the most significant genetic risk factor for asthma. Despite intensive efforts to develop new treatments, asthma is still an incurable disease.

Evidence of changes in the child’s airways consistent with asthma suggests that early intervention within the first few months of life is likely to be crucial in preventing the remodelling of airways which is the hallmark of asthma.

“Whilst this study is small it does suggest that it is possible to prevent the onset of asthma in high-risk individuals by instituting a strict regime that avoids some of the common triggers for asthma in the first year of life. We have shown that the beneficial effect lasts for many years,” said Dr Scott.

This study is important as a proof of the concept that environmental manipulation in early life reduces the prevalence of asthma in high risk individuals. This small study needs to be repeated on a larger scale to identify who is most likely to benefit from this type of prevention strategy.

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