BACKGROUND: A decline in host resistance due to an alteration in diet--primarily of salt--was recently put forward as a possible explanation for rising rates of asthma. METHODS: A case-control study was conducted in participants in a prevalence survey which included 187 children with asthma (defined by prior diagnosis and/or a decline in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) of > or = 10% after exercise) and 145 age and sex matched controls. Subjects were selected from 989 children aged 5-13 years attending 18 elementary schools on the island of Montreal. Usual dietary salt intake was estimated from a food frequency questionnaire administered to the mother, and a salt intake score was used to group the children into quartiles from I (lowest) to IV (highest salt intake). Bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine was assessed by Yan's method. Cases and controls were combined in one group to examine the relationship of salt intake to bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine. Methacholine responsiveness was expressed as a dose-response slope and ranks of dose-response slopes were used in the analysis. RESULTS: After accounting for important confounding variables, there was no association between asthma and salt intake, while methacholine dose-response slope ranks increased with increasing salt intake and methacholine responsiveness was greater in the highest quartile than in the lowest quartile of salt intake. The median dose-response slopes in % fall in FEV1 per mumol methacholine for quartiles I, II, III, and IV were 5.4, 5.9, 7.7, and 8.7. CONCLUSIONS: No association was found between asthma or exercise-induced bronchospasm and dietary salt intake. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine did, however, appear to increase with greater salt intake, but the relevance of this association to asthma is unclear.
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