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1 July 2003

Milk and butter reduce asthma risk

Bottles of milk.

Full-cream milk, butter and brown bread can help to reduce the risk of asthma symptoms in young children, according to new research. A study of 2,978 children, born within six months of each other, followed their progress between the ages of two to three, collecting and analysing data on their food intake and asthma symptoms.

Researchers found that the children who consumed full-cream milk and butter every day as part of their diet were less likely to have asthma symptoms than those who ate it less frequently. Brown bread was also found to be associated with lower rates of asthma and wheeze when eaten every day.

National Asthma Campaign experts have welcomed the study but cautioned that links between diet and asthma are still largely unknown.

The study, carried out in the Netherlands, also looked at other foods, including semi-skimmed milk, dairy products such as yoghurt and chocolate milk, white bread, margarine, cheese, fruit and vegetables. Levels of asthma prevalence were split into three categories: those who had experienced asthma symptoms at some point in their lives; those who had recently experienced symptoms; and those who had recently experienced wheeze. Full-fat milk and butter consistently featured more regularly in the diets of children who had fewer symptoms in each of these categories.

Professor Martyn Partridge, the National Asthma Campaign's chief medical adviser, commented: 'This is an interesting study showing an association between eating brown bread and milk products and a lower prevalence of asthma and wheezing. Whether the association is real and causally related or whether it reflects some other shared lifestyle change is not clear but it is one of a large number of recent studies suggesting associations between nutrition and lung health.'

The researchers admit that lifestyle could have played a part in the findings. For example, families who eat brown bread rather than white may have healthier habits that were not taken into consideration in the study, which could be responsible for reducing the risk of asthma.

However, previously researchers have found correlations between consumption of full cream milk and low incidence of asthma symptoms in young children. Studies have also suggested that the increase of asthma in the western world may be due to a greater intake of polyunsaturated fats in our diets. Milk and butter are both high in saturated fat.

Professor Partridge added: 'The increasing prevalence of asthma almost certainly reflects multiple lifestyle changes over the last three decades. Nutrition may be one such change, but there is too little data yet to enable us to give concrete dietary advice as to how to eat to avoid asthma.'

Anne Pearson, a nurse on the Campaign's Asthma UK Adviceline, agreed: 'Foods generally are not common triggers for asthma. It's very important that children have a well balanced diet, and dairy products play an important role in this as they are a vital source of calcium, riboflavin, protein and vitamins A and B12.

'There's a common myth that drinking milk produces mucus in the airways,' she added, 'but this is not the case: it just thickens the saliva temporarily. If you suspect that food is causing a problem for your child, you should keep a food and symptom diary for a period of time, then take it to your GP.'


For advice and information on your medication or other asthma treatments, call the Asthma UK Adviceline (08457 01 02 03) or email an asthma specialist nurse.

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