FOR years researchers have been confounded as to why asthma rates have continued to rise astronomically €“ but Australian doctors may have at last discovered the answer.
Scientists at Sydney’s Garvan Institute have found fatty acids have a role to play in inflammatory disease, suggesting the Western diet may be behind the asthma epidemic.Around the world the rate of asthma increased by 100 per cent between 1985 and 2001.
The World Health Organisation predicts asthma deaths will increase by 20 per cent over the next decade.
Australia has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world, with one in six children asthmatics and one in nine adults diagnosed.
The researchers have discovered a connection between dietary fats and the immune system and believe it could be the missing link as to why inflammatory conditions such as asthma have risen.
Garvan Institute immunology program director and senior author Professor Charles Mackay said: “We have shown that a fatty acid binding molecule that normally just has a role in metabolism and fat cells is playing a critical role in immune responses.
“We are mystified as to why a molecule plays one role in one cell and another in a completely differ- ent system.
But it shows important connections that we don’t yet understand about the immune system and metabolism and the nervous system.”
Scientists found that by genetically removing this molecule from mice, the rodents were suddenly protected from inflammatory conditions.
The discovery could also explain why other diseases such as arthritis, type 1 diabetes and atherosclerosis have also risen in recent decades.
“Maybe the type of diet we have is having a profound effect on our immune system, which is why we are getting an increase in inflammatory diseases,” Professor Mackay said.
Authors of The Asthma Epidemic, a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, called for urgent prevention strategies.
“There is widespread concern the prevalence of asthma is still rising in developed countries, but the economic and humanitarian effects of asthma are probably greater in the developing world, where the prevalence is also rising,” the authors said.
The doctors said factors like increased reporting, genetics and environment could explain some of the increase but did not cover the dramatic spike.
Source : Daily Telegraph