Asthma research is ongoing and it certainly needs to be, when you consider the dramatic rise in the numbers of reported cases in the past quarter of a century. This is a disease that has been constantly on the rise as Western societies have moved into an increasingly unnatural environment. There is also the inevitable decrease in air quality to consider, largely due to the increased pollution from road traffic.
The fact that the most developed countries have far and away the highest rates of incidence of asthma is clear proof that there is something in the environment that is causing the difficulty. In fact, there is almost certainly more than one contributing factor in every case, otherwise the numbers would be even worse than they are. There is also the issue of whether modern children are brought up in an environment that is too sterilized and clean, so they are not exposed to potential allergens early on to develop an immunity to them. Trials have demonstrated that children who are exposed to cat and dog allergens early in life actually have a reduced risk of developing asthma in the following years.
It is far easier to determine the factors which can exacerbate asthma than it is to clearly define the initial cause. Once someone is known to have asthma, it is more than likely that they will be under close medical supervision and that everything pertaining to an asthma attack will be accurately recorded. This data is not only useful to the practitioner dealing with that specific asthma case, but it is also exactly what researchers need to determine likely aggravating factors. Dust mites, vehicle exhaust, smoking, and even normally positive factors such as exercise can all play their part.
Prospects for drug therapy
Maintaining an asthma treatment plan is always a combination of avoiding any factors which seem to trigger attacks, while also using drugs to stabilize the condition of the body. Asthma research will always be continuing into the way certain drugs can be used to prevent the body from reacting to stimuli. Although none of the drugs currently used in asthma treatment are able to cure the condition, there is definite evidence that using drugs to keep the airways clear and preventing attacks can allow the body to stabilize itself. In children especially, there are many cases where symptoms cease following treatment.
Current drug therapies have a high success rate in allowing asthma sufferers to live a full and satisfying life, within the context of what is possible with the condition. In some cases, it is highly advisable for someone to change careers because there is a clear factor in the immediate environment which is triggering attacks. Other people may benefit from going to live in a more rural area where the air is far less polluted, but there are practical considerations here and it is not always possible. Where changes are possible, the effects are always valuable data to add to the banks of available research.
In terms of managing the condition, drug research is always constant and new solutions are being developed now. It may be possible to control the condition better as a result of current asthma research.
Asthma and gender
Asthma in childhood is subject to other laws. Asthma does not let the girl grow! Scientists conducted a study in which children of both sexes aged 8 to 14 years participated. The results confirmed the fact that asthma affects the growth of children. In girls with asthma, growth was slowed by 4 times compared with healthy peers. At the same time, asthma does not affect growth in boys at all. The reasons for this strange fact are still being studied by science.
Does this rare caterpillar fungus point to a future asthma treatment?
Researchers in the USA have been investigating whether the rare type of mushroom found in Tibet might lead to a possible new form of asthma treatment. They’ve been researching the effects of cordycepin, a drug extracted from caterpillar fungus, which has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and has been known to have wide-ranging benefits. This research demonstrated the way in which cordycepin acts as an anti-inflammatory, calming the airways of asthma sufferers.
The caterpillar fungus, Ophiocordyceps sinensis, is so named because the fungal spores attack and eventually kill a particular type of caterpillar found on the Tibetan plateau and in the Himalayas. The caterpillar eventually dies and the fungus grows out of the forehead of the caterpillar, standing 5 to 15 cm tall.
The research team looked at the production of inflammatory genes in smooth muscle cells in the airways. It found that cordycepin interfered with a process known as polyadenylation, the production of messenger RNAs that hold the blueprint for creating these proteins. By blocking this process, the drug prevents the inflammation of the airways that underlies asthma. They also found that cordycepin did not interfere with the production of all genes’ messenger RNAs, which would have been an undesirable side effect.
Instead, the chemical only seems to affect the production of rapidly induced genes such as those involved in repairing tissue damage in the body. It is the over-activation of these processes that lead to the inflammatory effects of asthma, and also suggest a role for cordycepin in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, renal failure, cancer, and stroke damage.
However, because this drug would also potentially impact the body’s normal wound healing processes and defenses against infection, more research is needed before it could be given a clinical use. The research team plan to continue their work in understanding the mechanisms by which cordycepin acts.
This does suggest the possibility of a new form of treatment for asthma and other diseases in the future. Current asthma treatments are divided into non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce the effects of inflammation, and anti-inflammatory steroids that reduce the inflammation in the first place. Cordycepin would offer an entirely different mechanism to reduce inflammation and may provide a benefit for patients where the existing treatments are ineffective or avoiding the side effects that the current treatments can have.
Fish to reduce the risk of asthma in babies
The latest research from the USA suggests that introducing a child to fish for the first time between the ages of 6 and 12 months will reduce the chances of that child developing asthma.
Today’s increasing prevalence of asthma is commonly associated with (amongst other things) adopting a western diet. Previous studies have looked at the impact of the mother following a diet rich in fish, fruit, and vegetables during pregnancy, and also the benefits on the child of following this kind of diet.
When the researchers in this study could not demonstrate an association between this prenatal and early years consumption of fish and a reduction in asthma-like symptoms, they narrowed their research. They looked at whether the age at which the child was first introduced to fish was relevant, and whether the amount of fish they went on to eat was important. It is not uncommon for people to be allergic to seafood, so knowing the right time to introduce fish into the diet is useful.
The study involved 7,210 children. Parents were asked to complete a questionnaire when their child reached 14 months. They were also asked at what age they’d first given their child fish. They were also asked to quantify how much fish their child ate each week, divided into fatty fish such as mackerel, herring and salmon, and non-fatty fish such as cod, haddock, and tuna.
Questionnaires and other methods were used to capture data about other potential asthma triggers – including gender, family allergy and asthma history, hay fever and other allergies, the mother’s smoking and drinking habits during pregnancy, and breastfeeding. All of these alternative causes were accounted for in the analysis.
The children were then assessed through a further questionnaire and interview by a physician at ages 36 and 48 months for the presence of asthma-like symptoms: wheezing and shortness of breath. This was done in preference to the lung function tests normally required for an asthma diagnosis due to the complexity involved in delivering those tests.
For children given fish for the first time between the ages of 6 and 12 months, 30% reported asthma-like symptoms at 48 months. For children first introduced to fish either before or after this age group, the prevalence of asthma-like symptoms was around 45%.
The amount of fish being consumed at 14 months made no difference to the likelihood of developing asthma symptoms – purely the timing of their first exposure to fish.
Whilst the research showed a statistical benefit, it did not draw a conclusion on why the first exposure to fish within this window gave an advantage. It notes that fish is a great source of fatty acids (N-3 PUFAs such as DHA and EXA) that have a role in regulating the immune system or have anti-inflammatory properties: asthma stems from an underlying inflammation of the airways, so these would be beneficial.
Every asthmatic knows that indoor cleaning is crucial to prevent asthma attacks. Dust is a very aggressive trigger. But few people know that far from all cleaning and washing substances can be used in everyday life by asthmatics.
Weekly exposure to household cleaning sprays can increase your likelihood of developing asthma symptoms. This is particularly true for those using two or more different cleaning sprays.
This was the result of recent research into asthma and cleaning sprays. Using data gathered from an earlier study, the scientists looked at trends in cleaning spray usage among 683 women, 244 of whom reported current asthma symptoms. The average age of the group was 44 years, and 55% of the group had never smoked.
Those scoring high on a scale of asthma symptoms were 2.5 times more likely to be using two types of cleaning spray weekly than those who had no asthma symptoms.