High-fat food worsens asthma symptoms

If you have asthma, fatty foods like butter aren't your best pal. (Photo by Alison Ashton)

If you have asthma, pass up the Happy Meal.

A new study from the University of Newcastle in Australia finds a fatty, caloric fast-food meal makes it harder for asthmatics to breathe. Even worse, the high-fat fare renders albuterol, an inhaler commonly used to relieve asthma symptoms, less effective.

The study involved 40 people with asthma, who were randomly assigned to gobble a 1,000-calorie fast-food meal (burger and hash browns) that was 52% fat or low-fat yogurt that was just 200 calories and 13% fat. It’s the first study to examine the effect of high-fat food on airway inflammation, which is the hallmark of asthma, says researcher Dr. Lisa Wood.

The results raise intriguing questions, including whether the type of fat makes a difference. Could heart-clogging saturated fat also inflame airways? And do unsaturated fats have the same effect? “We expect that saturated fat would be driving the inflammatory response, as this type of fat has been shown to have the strongest inflammatory effects in other studies,” says Wood. “We are exploring the effects of fat quality on fat-induced inflammation in asthma in our future work.”

If follow-up studies confirm the link between fat and symptoms, reducing dietary fat may be a smart–and easy–way to manage asthma.