Link Between Obesity and Asthma Discovered

Obesity may cause asthma by altering the immune system, study says.

There are studies that have looked into the links between asthma and obesity, but until now, the reason for the link has been unknown. Boston Children’s Hospital officials say that both conditions have become more common over the last several decades. A new study led by Dr. Dale Umetsu and Hye Young Kim of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Boston Children’s, explored obesity’s effects on the immune system.

“Since it’s been a puzzle to understand why obesity predisposes people to asthma, our goal was to find the connection between these two problems, which occur in both children and adults and to explore possible new treatments,” Umetsu says in a press release.

The research conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital indicates that obesity might cause asthma due to factors in the immune system, and the study suggests a new way of treating asthma in obese people. Boston Children’s says that obese people often respond poorly to standard asthma medications.

The study, conducted in a mouse model of asthma and in human lung fluid, was published online December 15th in the journal Nature Medicine. The researchers studied mice that were fed a high-fat diet causing them to become obese. Unlike mice fed normal diets, the obese mice developed airway hyper-reactivity or constricted and twitchy airways, the predominant feature of asthma.

In the study, obesity appeared to alter the immune system—the body’s first responder to infection—in several ways to cause lung inflammation. “We have discovered an inflammatory pathway to asthma that previously had not been recognized,” Umetsu says. “This pathway may be resistant to standard asthma medications such as corticosteroids.”

Note: After the study concluded, Umetsu accepted the position of principal medical director at Genentech. He is no longer affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital.

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  • Grace Nyambura Gatungo

    FALL, 12-18-2013
    It is helpful to read this statement “link between Obesity and Asthma
    Discovered.” What I have observed over the years is obese in either
    infant/children or adult, the obese push the diaphragm up and reduces
    space and interferes with the breathing mechanism. May be asthma medicine isnot the solution because it will increase obesity. The slow heart burn and reflux, up the gullet/esophagus, has stomach acids which burn the gullet as it travels up the gullet and puts some spells into air as air goes into the air passage on the way to the lungs and eventually burn airway and lungs and over a prolonged time causes asthma like reaction. I have observed an obese infant, if milk in stomach reverses up gullet you see the infant having a violent cough, asthmatic like cough for seconds from spells in the reversed milk because it is already curdled in the stomach and mixed with acids in stomach. The same effects heart burn /reflux happen to obese adult. The asthma medicine may not work in this situation. It could be weight loss would work. My grandson was obese had asthma-like reactions and croups. He was on heavy medication with all asthma medicines. The more medicine he used the more weight he gained from especially steroids, use of humidifier, night ride in the neighborhood to stop croup coughs, a nebulizer machine for inhalers, nasal sprays you name it. He had the most qualified pulmonary doctor in the city. The alternative thing to try was, first, was sent him to another country for eight months to experience different foods and involuntary physical activities. He lost most of weight and when he came back to America, he was put in tapping class as an extra curriculum physical activity. He lost all unnecessary weight. His lungs have greatly recovered. Presently he keeps only one type of emergency breathing medicine that he uses as needed. This is not enough experimental data but can be a departure to looking into more to it. Thanks for using this space to say something. Grace N. Gatungo (12-18-2013).