The cross-sectional survey of 1,476 children aged between six and seven in Mexico found that a higher adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was also associated with significant reductions in wheezing, sneezing, and itchy-watery eyes.
However, maternal consumption of a Med diet during pregnancy did not confer any benefits on the children, according to results published in the journal Allergy.
The Med diet, rich in cereals, wine, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil, and low in dairy, meat, junk food and fat , has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet's main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals.
The new study adds to a small but growing body of science linking a Mediterranean-style diet to reduced incidence of asthma and inflamed nasal passages (allergic rhinitis) among children.
According to the European Federation of Allergy and Airway Diseases Patients Association (EFA), over 30m Europeans suffer from asthma, costing Europe €17.7bn every year. The cost due to lost productivity is estimated to be around €9.8bn.
The condition is on the rise in the Western world and the most common long-term condition in the UK today
According to the American Lung Association, almost 20m Americans suffer from asthma. The condition is reported to be responsible for over 14m lost school days in children, while the annual economic cost of asthma is said to be over $16.1bn.
The researchers, led by Isabelle Romieu from the Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, recruited a random sample of 1,476 children and estimated their dietary intakes using a parental food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) with 70 food items. The mothers’ diets during pregnancy were also assessed.
A higher adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet was associated with a 40 per cent decrease in the risk of asthma, a 36 per cent reduction in the risk of wheezing, a 59 per cent reduction in ever having rhinitis, and a 37 per cent reduction in having current itchy-watery eyes.
While cereal consumption was found to be amongst the protective components of the diet, the researchers “surprisingly” found that fruit, vegetables, or nuts were not associated with a protective effect, “probably because of the high consumption of both of them in our study population”, they said.
“Both experimental and epidemiological data support the biological plausibility of our findings,” said the researchers. The presence of antioxidants may protect against oxidative damage in the airways, they said, while the high consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish may also play a role.
“These results, if confirmed, provide additional evidence of the benefits of healthy dietary habits and support the need for public health measures to promote a healthy diet among children,” they concluded.
Source: AllergyVolume 63, Issue 10, Pages 1310-1316“Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced asthma and rhinitis in Mexican children”Authors: J. de Batlle , J. Garcia-Aymerich , A. Barraza-Villarreal, J.M. Anto, I. Romieu