Over the past 30 years, obesity has more than doubled among children and quadrupled among adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Asthma has shown a similar surge in incidence. While they are often treated as distinct disease entities, they are clearly related, as the Forno study illustrates. A number of factors are responsible for the rapidly rising number of obese youngsters, including poor food quality, too much time spent indoors, increased screen exposure and intense stress. Conventional medicine can treat the symptoms of this epidemic, but holistic practitioners tend to delve deeper.
Asthma appears to be aggravated by metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, and the presence of asthma—especially if not properly treated—predisposes already sedentary kids to avoid exercise and exertion, which only exacerbates the metabolic dysregulation.
The common factor here is systemic inflammation. In all three of these conditions—insulin resistance, obesity and asthma—patients show a generalized proinflammatory state. Insulin resistance and the concomitant elevated blood glucose levels create a feed-forward cycle of further inflammation.
Hyperinsulinemia shifts cells toward a TH2-type inflammatory response, which directly affects the lung. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor are linked to lung development and function.
Insulin is a fat-storage hormone responsible for weight gain. Fat cells produce highly inflammatory cytokines called adipocytokines (or adipokines) which include leptin, adiponectin, resistin, visfatin, as well as cytokines like IL-1, IL-6, and tumour necrosis factor alpha. The released adipokines lead to an inflammatory cascade, which drives insulin resistance, obesity-associated cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes.
These inflammatory signals also aggravate many other chronic diseases, including asthma.
People with obesity-associated asthma show abnormalities in proinflammatory mediators marked by neutrophilic airway inflammation, corticosteroid resistance and increased morbidity, all of which make the asthma more difficult to control and treat.
Leptin levels have been linked to the development and severity of asthma regardless of a person’s body mass index, and to increased systemic inflammation, even among non-obese patients. Insulin resistance may affect lung function through insulin growth factor 1, adiponectin or leptin. (Wood LG, et al. Am J Resp Crit Care Med. 2012;186: 1-2).
All of this leads to rapid and premature aging, and opens the door to heart disease, stroke, dementia and cancer. In light of all these physiological realities, Forno’s findings are not entirely surprising, though they are no less disturbing for being predictable.
The Answer? Education
What can we do to help reverse the deadly tide threatening so many of our young peope?
Educate, educate, educate! Parents are not actively sabotaging their children’s health, and most kids don’t realize how their lifestyle choices and bad habits are setting them up for a lifetime of dependence on doctors and drugs. Yet the vast majority of the risk factors driving the epidemics of insulin resistance, obesity and asthma are related to diet and lifestyle choices—things over which people really do have some control.
Your qualified natural health practitioner is able to monitor nutrient and vitamin levels. Deficiencies play a large role in the irresistible cravings for precisely the kinds of foods that boost inflammation. It’s important to monitor nutrient levels, especially vitamin D and omega 3 fats, which help control insulin function.
- Limit or eliminate foods that cause an increase in insulin response, such as processed carbohydrates, starchy and sugary foods;
- Increase the amount of vegetables, healthy fats and protein at each meal, which is great at regulating blood sugar levels, insulin balance and hunger control;
- Avoid any food within three hours of bedtime, since a boost in insulin before sleep leads to belly fat
- Limit food allergens—especially wheat and dairy– that lead to inflammation and chronic disease.
The next step is to effectively manage stress, which is extremely important in disease prevention and treatment. Some recommendations include:
- Daily relaxation practices like deep-breathing exercises, meditation and other relaxation techniques;
- Getting seven to eight hours of sleep, as insomnia affects appetite hormones and drives up sugar and carbohydrate cravings.
Let’s coach our children on getting out and moving. Exercise is super – important at all ages, but is especially crucial for growing bodies. It increases oxygen uptake and blood flow to all areas of the body, and helps regulate appetite.
Addressing the obesity and asthma epidemics will require step-by-step lifestyle changes. But the simple techniques above are powerful in preventing mortality, morbidity and improving quality of life.
Research also by Daniel Weber PHD MSC
J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Jul;130(1):83-90.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.03.020. Epub 2012 May 2: Genome-wide association study of the age of onset of childhood asthma.
Forno E1, Lasky-Su J, Himes B, Howrylak J, Ramsey C, Brehm J, Klanderman B, Ziniti J, Melén E, Pershagen G, Wickman M, Martinez F, Mauger D, Sorkness C, Tantisira K, Raby BA, Weiss ST, Celedón JC