Asthma is a growing problem, particularly in Western countries
Article reprinted from Pure Facts March 2001, Vol. 25, No. 2

About 5 million children and
10 million adults in the U.S.
are afflicted with asthma,
making it the leading chronic
disease in this country.

The Feingold Association's web site lists over 40 studies on asthma, covering a quarter century; nearly all of them concern foods, food additives and salicylates. [See] Despite this abundance of evidence, the role of diet is generally overlooked, especially in the press.

Recent articles on asthma have included information about the role of air pollution, pyrethrins and mice.

Air Pollution

Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles have demonstrated a connection between ozone and school absenteeism. The layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere provides protection for the earth, but when ozone is in our atmosphere it can cause various respiratory problems, including asthma. Ozone is formed when sunlight comes in contact with air pollutants. When the amount of ozone increased the University of California team found a corresponding increase in school absenteeism.

[Epidemiology 2001;12:43-54 ||| Full Text Available ]


Pyrethrin is an insecticide that is derived from plants, including chrysanthemums and daisies. It is used in many products, including pet shampoos. An 11 year old girl, with a history of asthma and allergies, experienced a severe asthmatic attack after giving her dog a shampoo, using a product that contains pyrethrins. She died despite vigorous medical intervention. [ Western Journal of Medicine 2000;173:86-87]


Scientists at The Johns Hopkins University rated mice second only to cockroaches as pests that can trigger asthmatic attacks. The subjects in their research were children living in the inner city, in families whose income fell below the poverty line. While 7% of American children are said to suffer from asthma, twice as many are children living in the inner city. A spokesperson for the Orkin Exterminating company explained that mice are attracted to inner city areas where they can find a high concentration of humans, food and shelter. Critics worry that the use of pesticides to exterminate mice and insects will pose another threat to the health of people living in these communities.

The Hopkins study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Center for Indoor Air Research. Interestingly, the Center for Indoor Air Research is a branch of the Tobacco Institute.

Can all of these things trigger asthma?

There are many things that can bring on an asthma attack in a sensitive individual. In addition to the above, cold air and exercise can be a factor. Cigarette smoke, pet dander, mold, mildew, pollen, perfumes, and other air-borne irritants can be to blame. So can milk or other foods.

But there is a significant problem with the studies that seek out causes for asthma. They don't address some important facts.

  • While asthma is epidemic in the Western world, this is not the case in underdeveloped countries.

  • Some of these asthma triggers are ancient, but asthma has only increased dramatically over the past few decades.
So, while there is no doubt that cold air, pet dander, food allergies, etc. can bring about an attack, they could not account for the sudden rise, especially when so many medical advances have been made in the treatment of asthma.

That leaves us to examine those triggers that are relatively new factors that are found primarily in countries like the United States, and things that were not in our lives until fairly recently, or that were not used in large quantity until recent years. Also, we should pay particular attention to the substances that are most likely to be encountered by children.
Food additives and scented toys should be included in any examination of the asthma epidemic, yet these important factors are seldom mentioned in media articles. You can play a part in getting this information out to families dealing with asthma. The Feingold Association has a brochure that focuses on the role of diet in asthma. Contact FAUS at (757) 229-2838 for copies of this brochure.

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