Chicken Soup For the Airways?

As we approach Fall, our thoughts turn to pumpkins, cold mornings, dark nights and welcoming bowls of soup.  Soup is also on the minds of a group of researchers in Scotland. A new study will be conducted by Baxter Food Group, together with researchers from the University of Aberdeen plan to study whether soups enhanced with vitamin E may help reduce the chance of childhood asthma.

Together, they have developed 3 soups containing ingredients with high levels of vitamin E. By judicious tweaking of ingredients, for example, substituting normal tomatoes found in cream of tomato soup with their sun-dried counterparts, they were able to develop three new varieties of “super-soups”.  The soups also contain other ingredients rich vitamin E, including beans, lentils, wheat-germ, sunflower oil and sun-dried tomatoes.  They’ve also created “placebo soups” which have been made to look and taste similar to the real ones, but do not contain intensified levels of vitamin E.

Their intent is to increase the daily intake of vitamin E among pregnant women from current levels which are on average of 8mg per day to approximately 15mg per day.  The 50 women involved in the study will begin consuming 3 servings of soup per week when they are 12 weeks pregnant, and do the same until they deliver their babies.

They will examine whether the new dietary intervention is well tolerated by the women and if it has the desired effect on vitamin intake. And, during the first week of the babies’ lives their lung function will be examined.

The researchers hope that fortifying soup with vitamin E could help prevent childhood asthma.  Prior studies have shown that low vitamin E diets for pregnant women tend to result in babies being born with a higher chance of asthma by the time they reach 5 years old.   But this will be the first asthma study to use dietary supplementation of vitamin E rather than tablet supplements.

Graham Devereux, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Aberdeen and Honorary Consultant Physician at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, commented: “Although far more difficult, it seems more natural to give vitamin E in a natural food form rather than a vitamin E pill because the vitamin E containing foods comprise a complex mix of nutrients that might be critically important. When one considers the foods containing vitamin E, soup seems an obvious intervention”.

The overall approach has support from both nutritionists and asthma experts.

If we’re really lucky we might show that the children [born to women] receiving vitamin E enhancement may actually have better lung function,” Prof Deveraux says. “The ultimate aim of this research is to reduce the prevalence of asthma by an effective, inexpensive, acceptable and safe public health dietary intervention. If successful, the proposed intervention could form the basis of public health dietary advice to pregnant women that could reduce the prevalence of childhood asthma by 15-20% within five years.”

Depending on the outcome of the current study, Deveraux and his team plan to launch a much bigger study.

So will these super soups work?  Stay tuned and we’ll ladle out the news as it breaks!

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