Scientists say they have discovered what could be a ground-breaking new treatment for asthma – simply eating more fruit and vegetables.
Tests conducted on mice showed that those with high-fibre diets were less likely to suffer serious respiratory symptoms such as inflammation of the lungs and airways.
They established that the extra soluble fibre, found most commonly in fruit and vegetables, was converted into short-chain fatty acids, a type of fat which acts as a signal to make the immune system more resistant to irritation.
The team from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, suggested that a fatty acid supplement pill could also be used as an effective treatment for asthma, if a diet change is out of the question.
Dr Benjamin Marsland, one of the co-authors of the study, told BBC News: “There's a very high probability it works in humans, the basic principle of fibre being converted to short-chain fatty acids is known.
“But we don't know what amount of fibre would be needed and the concentrations of short-chain fatty acids required might be different.
“It is early days, but the implications could be far reaching.”
The study, which has been published in the journal Nature Medicine, proposed that the boom in processed food consumption in the western world could explain the increase in asthma rates over the 1980s and 90s.
“In recent decades, there has been a well-documented increase in the incidence of allergic asthma in developed countries and coincident with this increase have been changes in diet, including reduced consumption of fibre,” it read.