For millions of Americans with asthma, breathing problems are a real, everyday risk. Hispanic-Americans are more likely to have asthma than other groups of Americans, and researchers have been working to find the reason why. A new study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society suggests that the reason is at least partially due to diet -- inflammatory foods may be connected to asthma symptoms.

What is asthma?

According to The National Institutes of Health, asthma is a long-term condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airway. This causes difficulty breathing and can occur in any age group. For some people with asthma, symptoms may happen every day. For others, attacks can be rare. Triggers for asthma symptoms can vary from specific air pollutants like dust and dander to something as simple as cold air.

Inflammatory foods

Some foods can trigger responses in your body similar to those that occur with an injury. When these inflammatory foods take effect, you could develop chronic inflammation -- pain, swelling, heat, redness. Chronic inflammation itself can precipitate other conditions.

According to the NIH, “In general, high-fat and high-sugar diets are pro-inflammatory, whereas high-fiber diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains help reduce inflammation.”

Chronic inflammation can cause a variety of health issues including depression and dementia. Inflammatory diets have been specifically linked to problems such as heart disease. Asthma -- a disease characterized by inflammation -- might join the ranks.

The study

For this study, the researchers drew a pool of 12,687 Hispanic adults, 6.8% of whom had asthma, from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). On two separate occasions, participants were asked about the foods they had eaten in the past day and then took a test to measure how much air they could blow out after taking a deep breath. This test measures lung function and can be used to identify potential asthma symptoms.

The researchers then used the Dietary Inflammatory Index to evaluate the information and come up with a “pro-inflammatory” score for each participant. This score allowed them to evaluate the participants’ diets and their effects.

The results

Patients with asthma whose diets included significant amounts of pro-inflammatory foods were more likely to experience asthma symptoms and show weaker lung function. People with healthier diets tended to have better lung function results.

There are potential ethnic concerns as well, but not enough information to draw conclusions. Participants with Puerto Rican ancestry were found to be more likely than others to eat a pro-inflammatory diet and have asthma.

The take home

With millions of Americans who have asthma, finding ways to alleviate the symptoms can be important. Careful food choices can limit chances for inflammation and associated diseases such as, apparently, asthma.

Sean Marsala is a health writer based in Philadelphia, Pa. Passionate about technology, he can usually be found reading, browsing the internet and exploring virtual worlds.