Mother holding asthma inhaler for daughter

Mother holding asthma inhaler for daughter (© Prostock-studio -

NEW YORK — While the debate over how healthy eating meat is for the human body usually focuses on heart disease and cancer, a new study finds it may also be affecting how children breathe. Researchers from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai find children who eat cooked meat are nearly 20 percent more likely to start wheezing, a breathing problem commonly caused by asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Their study reveals that grilling, frying, or roasting meat creates inflammatory compounds that tighten the chest. This can lead to wheezing, a high-pitched and coarse whistling sound when you breathe. Other conditions that cause wheezing include allergies and respiratory infections like acute bronchitis.

Heating proteins fuels these harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short. They have also been linked to a host of chronic illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

“Importantly, our results suggest they are adversely associated with childhood wheeze independent of overall diet quality,” says corresponding author Dr. Sonali Bose of Mount Sinai in a statement to SWNS.

Eating cooked meat damages children’s lungs?

Researchers examined the diets and respiratory symptoms of more than 4,000 children under 18 in the United States. The results reveal children with higher AGE levels have an 18 percent higher chance of wheezing. This increase remains after factoring out several possible causes including age, sex, race, household income, body mass index, and asthma.

The chances of wheezing that disturbs sleep (26%), occurs during exercise (34%), or requires medication (35%) also rose significantly among children between two and 17 year-olds. Greater consumption of all types of meats more than doubled the likelihood of sleep disrupted by wheezing and the need for drugs to ease symptoms.

“As several cohort studies have suggested an adverse effect of meat consumption on pediatric airways health, confirmation of a positive correlation between AGE intake and non-seafood meat consumption in our cohort strengthens our a prior hypothesis that dietary AGEs may have an important role in airway inflammation in children,” the study authors write in a media release.

The wrong diet can lead to asthma

Researchers say the Western dietary pattern, characterized by increased consumption of AGE-rich foods (namely meats and saturated fats) may promote an inflammatory cascade. This could thereby contribute to patients developing asthma.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about 5.5 million children in the U.S. have asthma. That’s roughly 7.5 percent of all children under 18 in the country.

Of the 4,388 kids in the new report, 537 (13%) experienced wheezing over the past year. Researchers say AGEs lock on to particular “danger signal” cells in the body. These cells are particularly abundant in the lungs and trigger an inflammatory immune system response. Until now, it had not been clear how they might influence the development of respiratory symptoms.

Professor Jonathan Grigg, of the Centre for Child Health at Queen Mary University in London, who is not involved in the study, says a growing body of evidence implicates AGEs in the development of asthma.

“Although we are far from having enough evidence to recommend changes in meat consumption in children in order to reduce asthma, a focus on adverse respiratory effects of consuming large amounts of cooked meats resonates with wider agendas,” Grigg explains.

“Irrespective of the adverse health effects of AGEs, it may therefore now be time to advocate a diet with smaller amounts of higher-quality and more sustainable cooked meat.”

The study appears in the journal Thorax.

SWNS writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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