Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Gut Bacteria Help Asthma

Fibre supplements could provide a non-pharmacological treatment for the estimated one million Australians who are failing to manage their asthma, according to a study presented at the annual scientific meeting of the Thoracic Society for Australia and New Zealand.

The study, conducted by The University of Newcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Healthy Lungs, provided daily supplements of the soluble fibre supplement inulin to a number of stable asthmatics. Changes in asthma control, lung function and gut microbiota were then monitored.

The study found that the fibre supplements altered the gut microbiome, which in turn had a positive effect on asthma control and reduced airways inflammation. The treatment was most effective in people who were poorly controlled at the start of the intervention.

“This groundbreaking research offers hope of a viable, complementary treatment for tens of millions of asthmatics around the world struggling to control their asthma with existing medications,” said lead researcher Prof Lisa Wood.

“This is the first time anyone has looked at the impact of altering the gut microbiome on asthma control in humans. We’re at the tip of a new paradigm for how diet can be used to treat asthma,” said Prof Peter Gibson, President of TSANZ.

Another study presented by the group examined the impact of fatty foods on asthma, and found that as little as a single meal high in saturated fats worsens inflammation. This results in a temporary narrowing of the airways, and leads to asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness.

The body of research holds particular significance for obese asthmatics, who have some of the poorest diets and health outcomes for asthma. “For many obese asthmatics, using puffers to control their asthma simply isn’t working and it has doctors baffled,” Gibson said. “With almost two out of three adult Australians obese or overweight, this is becoming an increasingly pressing issue.”