Do you have asthma and are overweight or obese? Have you ever wondered if your weight and asthma relate to each other? You are not alone. Thousands of researchers all over the world are working relentlessly to unravel the underlying relationship. Because today’s sobering reality is that approximately 68% of adults in the United States are obese or overweight. Sadly, obesity rates in the United States have steadily increased over the past two decades as have asthma rates.
From what we know so far, obesity does not ‘cause’ asthma rather it is a ‘risk factor’ for future development of asthma. There is a big difference. A risk factor is a condition that increases your likelihood of developing a disease but does not necessarily cause it. According to Dr. Fernando Holguin, assistant director of the Asthma Institute of University of Pittsburgh at UPMC, “the relationship between asthma and overweight/obesity is multi-layered.” He further explains, “Among overweight/obese patients with asthma, the increase in body weight impairs the response to medications. Obesity also makes the airways more twitchy and difficult to dilate or open.” It is no surprise then that overweight/obese asthmatics have been observed to go through more hospitalizations compared to non-obese asthmatics.
In summary, research findings highlight two important facts for an overweight/obese asthma patient to remember: a. Obesity worsens your asthma symptoms. b. It makes it harder to treat and/or manage them. But, is this the end of the story or, is there a solution? Turns out, there is. Dr. Holguin adds, “The number one lifestyle change that someone who is obese or overweight can make is to exercise routinely and lose weight. Even small changes in lifestyle and a decrease in weight can make a big difference in how you feel.”
Other lifestyle changes you might consider are taking the stairs instead of the elevator, keeping a food journal, limiting high-fat/sugar foods, replacing chocolate and juice with whole fruit, and last but not least getting a good night’s sleep. These kinds of changes, when practiced on a regular basis, greatly alleviate your asthma symptoms and reduce medication use. If you are new to this, keeping a food journal might be a good place to start. Here is a free food tracking journal that is easy to use.
Asked what he likes most about Pittsburgh Dr.Holguin responds, “One of the things I love about Pittsburgh is how each part of the city has its own personality. It’s like multiple little cities attached to each other.”
Dr. Holguin works in clinical and translational asthma research with Dr. Sally Wenzel and is the Assistant Director of the Asthma Institute. His clinical interests primarily focus on treating patients with severe asthma and on understanding the association between obesity and environmental asthma triggers with asthma severity and control. Check out his new study on the connection between watermelon and asthma!