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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA CEHCs: Mechanisms of Asthma-Dietary Interventions against Environmental Triggers - Johns Hopkins University


More than 7 million children in the United States have asthma, a chronic disease that causes coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and trouble breathing. The disease disproportionately affects inner-city African Americans; a disparity scientists believe is due in part to the direct and indirect effects of poverty, including high levels of pollutants and allergens in inner-city homes and neighborhoods.  While such disparities in asthma health are not new, the gap has widened over the past 30 years. Research at this Center is designed to test whether eating a poor-quality diet may increase asthma severity among children and whether a high anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory diet increases the body’s ability to respond to stressors while decreasing susceptibility to pollutant and allergen exposures.

At this center, researchers focus on children living in the inner city of Baltimore, Maryland to study how certain foods cause asthmatic responses and whether certain foods make a person’s asthma better or worse. Previous research has shown that eating a “Mediterranean diet” rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy foods, antioxidants and vitamin D can reduce asthma attacks. On the other hand, a poor-quality diet high in fats from meat, junk food and soda may impair the body’s ability to handle pollution and allergens, potentially leading to more frequent asthma attacks.

Through its research, the center aims to better understand how dietary influences such as the “Mediterranean diet” or other dietary interventions impact asthmatic response to indoor and outdoor pollutants and triggers. The researchers hope to develop practical advice on what foods children could eat to better control their asthma.

Research Projects

Project 1: Urban Dietary Effects on the Asthmatic Response to Pollutants
In the U.S., the burden of asthma is immense, with a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups including young children, African-Americans and those living in the inner city. In this project, 200 inner-city Baltimore children with asthma, ages 5-12 are participating in a study to identify how diet may affect their susceptibility to asthmatic triggers from in-home pollutants (PM and NO2). As part of this study, the children participate in 3 seven-day monitoring periods (at baseline, 3 months and 6 months) where data is collected on indoor air, dietary and respiratory assessments, as well as other tests for markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. The researchers are also looking to identify barriers and other factors that impact implementing dietary and environmental modifications in inner city homes of children with asthma. 

Project Leaders: Gregory B. Diette, M.D., and Nadia N. Hansel, M.D., Johns Hopkins University

Project 2: Dietary Interventions in Asthma Treatment
This project focuses on Baltimore adults with asthma to examine how eating either broccoli sprouts or a special low-saturated fat, anti-inflammatory OmniHeart diet affects a person’s response to asthmatic triggers. Findings from these studies will lend insight into the role of diet in increasing susceptibility to allergen exposure, potential mechanisms by which diet may influence allergic asthma, and the potential for treating allergic asthma with dietary interventions in both adults and children.

Project Leaders: Elizabeth C. Matsui, M.D., and Meredith O. McCormack, M.D., Johns Hopkins University

Project 3: Dissecting the Diet-Asthma Relationship in Mice Models of Asthma
In this study, researchers use mice to study the biological effects of different diets on asthma. The mice are fed either a normal diet or a modified Mediterranean-type diet and allow researchers to compare diets with low DHA (Omega 3 fatty acids), high DHA and a high fat diet. This project will help illustrate the mechanism by which diet impacts susceptibility and asthma severity.

Project Leader: Shyam Biswal, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University


Primary Environmental Exposures: Airborne pollutants: particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), allergens
Primary Health Outcome: Asthma


Publications: (2003 - 2008)