Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for everyone — and may even help current and former smokers avoid chronic lung disease, a new investigation reveals.
Apples, pears, green leafy vegetables and peppers appear to offer protection against COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), said researchers led by Joanna Kaluza, of the Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland.
And the more servings of fruits and vegetables consumed regularly, the greater the protection, Kaluza and her colleagues found.
Findings from this large study appear in the Feb. 22 issue of Thorax.
The study can’t actually prove that diet prevents the debilitating lung disease.
However, “we would argue that clinicians should consider the potential benefits of a healthy diet in promoting lung health, and advocate optimizing intake of fruits and vegetables, especially in smokers who are unable to stop smoking,” said the authors of an editorial accompanying the study.
Smoking is the main risk factor for COPD. This term applies to a group of breathing conditions, including emphysema, caused by the narrowing of airway passages.
The new 13-year study involved 44,000 Swedish men between the ages of 45 and 79. Nearly two-thirds had smoked at some point. Roughly one-quarter still smoked, while nearly four in 10 said they had never smoked.
The men filled out food questionnaires and answered questions about smoking and other behaviors.
Over the study period, more than 1,900 new cases of COPD developed.
Analyzing the data, the study team determined that regardless of smoking history those who ate five or more servings of certain fruits and vegetables a day were 35 percent less likely to develop COPD than those who consumed just two servings daily.
Among former smokers, each additional serving was tied with a 4 percent lower risk of COPD. In current smokers, each extra serving was linked to an 8 percent lower risk, the study says.
Researchers theorized that antioxidants found in some fruits and vegetables may play a role in reducing tissue stress and inflammation that is central to the onset of COPD.
That said, not all fruits and veggies were deemed protective. Bananas, berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, garlic and peas did not appear to lower COPD risk.
Looked at in reverse, the team found that current and former smokers who consumed fewer than two portions of fruits and vegetables each day faced a greater risk for COPD respectively than those who had never smoked and ate five or more such portions daily.
There’s more on smoking and COPD at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.