(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
If you have kicked the smoking habit but are worried about the strength of your lungs, eating a lot of fresh tomatoes and fruits – especially apples – can slow your decline in lung function caused by your cigarettes, according to a study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The research suggests that certain natural components in these foods might help even help restore lung damage caused by smoking.
The findings appeared in the December issue of the European Respiratory Journal.
Adults who on average ate more than two tomatoes or more and three portions of fresh fruit a day had a slower decline in lung function compared to those who ate less than one tomato or less than one portion of fruit a day, respectively, the researchers found.
The researchers asked former smokers who participated in the study about other dietary sources such as dishes and processed foods containing fruits and vegetables (such as tomato sauce or ketchup), but the protective effect was observed only in fresh fruit and vegetables.
The paper, which is part of the Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts (ALEC) Study, funded by the European Commission and led by Imperial College London, also found a slower decline in lung function among all adults with the highest tomato consumption, including those who had never lit up or had stopped smoking. Poor lung function has been linked with mortality risks from all diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and lung cancer.
Asked to comment, Dr. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Jerusalem’s Braun Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine and senior expert at the Israel Medical Association’s Association of Public Health Physicians, said: “This study provides another piece of evidence for the importance of a healthful diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, not only for preventing diseases, but also for promoting health. We need more studies on the interactions between diet and smoking.”
Prof. Vanessa Garcia-Larsen of the Bloomberg School’s department of international health and the study’s lead author explained, “This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking. It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung’s natural aging process even if you have never smoked. The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD.”
For the study, the research team assessed diet and lung function of more than 650 adults in 2002, and then repeated lung function tests on the same group of participants a decade later. Participants from three European countries – Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom – completed questionnaires assessing their diets and overall nutritional intake. They also underwent spirometry, a procedure that measures the capacity of lungs to take in oxygen.
Among former smokers, the diet-lung-function connection was even more striking. Ex-smokers who ate a diet high in tomatoes and fruits had around 80 ml slower decline over the 10-year period. This suggests that nutrients in their diets are helping to repair damage done by smoking.
“Lung function starts to decline at around age 30 at variable speed depending on the general and specific health of individuals,” said Garcia-Larsen “Our study suggests that eating more fruits on a regular basis can help attenuate the decline as people age, and might even help repair damage caused by smoking. Diet could become one way of combating rising diagnosis of COPD around the world.”