Is our urban lifestyle behind today’s asthma epidemic?

Is our urban lifestyle behind today’s asthma epidemic?

Published date: 23 Apr 2018

On World Asthma Day, Sara Sajaniemi shares an interesting case from her home country, Finland.

Although I hung up my own lab coat for the last time five years ago, I maintain a great respect for medical scientists who continue to investigate the secrets of diseases affecting people around the world. Diseases like asthma. The research community has made significant progress in uncovering the mechanisms and epidemiology of asthma, but there’s still work needed to better understand the initiating factors.1

Asthma is already one of the most prevalent chronic conditions, and diagnosis rates are on the rise in industrial countries. There is a clear gap in the incidence of asthma between developed industrial countries and developing rural countries: the prevalence is ≤1% in rural countries, but as high as 10% in developed western countries.1

So why the disparity?

Several factors, such as childhood viral infections, air pollution, genetics, the maternal gut microbiota and early-life environment, may play a role in the onset of the disease.1,2 A so-called ‘hygiene hypothesis’ was introduced over 20 years ago, suggesting a positive link between early childhood exposure to ‘dirt and mud’ and protection against allergic diseases. This hypothesis has led researchers to explore the role of our childhood environment in the onset of asthma.

My home country, Finland, offers one fascinating case study.3 Karelia was a historical province of Finland, but was divided between Finland and Russia in 1940. The Russian and Finnish Karelia share history, ancestors and geo-climate features, but at the same time, the border between them is called one of the world’s sharpest boundaries in terms of standards of living. In Russian Karelia people are surrounded by nature. They live on small farms with cattle, growing their food in gardens and collecting water from wells or springs. Finnish Karelia, on the other hand, experienced rapid economic growth and urbanisation after separation.

This boundary caught the attention of allergy and asthma researchers when it was found that people in Finnish Karelia are much more likely to have allergic diseases than those in Russian Karelia. For example, asthma symptoms are diagnosed 5.5 times more frequently in the Finnish children than in the Russian children.3 Based on the results of a study into the reasons for this, it was concluded that the microbe-rich environment in Russian Karelia was associated with a reduced risk of asthma and allergic skin conditions, and that environmental biodiversity might be a key factor in protecting the children from developing allergic diseases.

Is our modern, clean, ‘desk-bound’ lifestyle causing the chronic allergy epidemics we face in western countries?

We are relying on the research community to lead us closer to understanding, preventing and even curing asthma. Today is World Asthma Day, and a reminder of the dedicated people working every day in centrifuge, incubator and microscope jungles, hunting for answers and developing solutions to the global asthma epidemic.

World Asthma Day is 1 May 2018. It’s organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world. The Purple healthcare team works with many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. We help our clients raise awareness of diseases, communicate therapy options to healthcare professionals and give them the information and resources they need to help improve patient outcomes. That’s why we recognise the vital work done by the many dedicated scientists and researchers seeking ways to help and improve the lives of the millions of asthma sufferers around the world and why we are supporting them on World Asthma Day.

 

World Asthma Day is 1 May 2018. It’s organised by the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) to improve asthma awareness and care around the world.

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Asthma facts

  • Asthma is a life-long inflammatory disease which affects the airways1,4
  • Typical symptoms include wheezing, breathlessness, a tight chest and coughing4
  • Over 300 million people are affected by asthma worldwide5
  • 4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma6
  • There’s currently no cure, but there are treatments to control symptoms4
  • The exact cause of asthma is unknown1,4

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References

1. Holgate et al. Asthma. Nature Reviews Disease Primers 2015;1:1–22

2. Smits et al. Childhood allergies and asthma: new insights on environmental exposures and local immunity at the lung barrier. Current Opinion in Immunology 2016;42:41–47.

3. Haahtela et al. Hunt for the origin of allergy – comparing the Finnish and Russian Karelia. Clinical & Experimental Allergy. 2015;45(5):891–901.

4. NHS Choices. Asthma. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/asthma/ [Accessed April 2018]

5. WHO: Global surveillance, prevention and control of chronic respiratory diseases: a comprehensive approach. Available at: http://www.who.int/gard/publications/GARD_Manual/en/ [Accessed April 2018]

6. Asthma UK. Asthma facts and statistics. Available at: https://www.asthma.org.uk/about/media/facts-and-statistics/ [Accessed April 2018]

 

The Purple Agency healthcare team works with many of the world’s leading  pharmaceutical companies. Over the last 10  years, we are proud to have localised content and created campaigns that help our  clients raise awareness of diseases, communicate therapy options to clinicians and give them the information and resources they need to help them improve outcomes for their patients