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Want to Lower Your Risk of COPD? Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables

May 04, 2017

Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may improve lung health and lower your risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to one recent study.

COPD is a group of lung diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that lead to airway blockages and difficulty breathing. These diseases can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath.

The large study, published in the journal Thorax, involved 44,335 men age 45 to 79. About 63 percent of study participants had a smoking history, 24 percent still smoked and about 39 percent had never smoked. Researchers asked each study participant to fill out a questionnaire detailing their fruit and vegetable consumptions and tracked the men for slightly more than 13 years.

The Link Between Fruit & Vegetable Consumption & COPD

During the 13-year study, there were more than 1,900 new cases of COPD. Researchers discovered a strong link between eating fruit and vegetables and the onset of COPD. Regardless of smoking history, those who ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 35 percent less likely to develop the disease than those who only ate two servings a day. When you break it down by smoking history, former smokers and current smokers were 34 percent and 40 percent less likely to develop COPD, respectively.

Consumption of green leafy vegetables, apples, pears or peppers reduced COPD risk the most. Researchers didn’t find a link between eating berries and COPD risk, but bananas, citrus fruits, tomatoes, onions, garlic, green peas and root vegetables all were connected to a lower risk. Every additional serving a day of fruit and vegetables consumed also lowered COPD risk — at a rate of 8 percent in current smokers and 4 percent in former smokers.

But why?

The study’s researchers think the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables may protect the lung from oxidative damage to the tissues, which is caused by smoking and leads to respiratory-related illnesses like lung cancer, COPD and hardening and narrowing of the arteries.

The study’s findings are consistent with previous research that has explored the link between fruit and vegetable intake and the risk for COPD. One 2014 study involving 2,200 adults with COPD found that those who ate fish, grapefruit, banana and cheese (yes, cheese was on the list) had better lung function and fewer symptoms than those who didn’t consume these foods. This might be because people who eat lean protein and fruit tend to have a healthier and more well-balanced diet overall. Previous research also has indicated people who consume a lot of processed foods, red meat, saturated fat and sugar are more likely to develop COPD than those who don’t.

About 30 million Americans have COPD, the third leading cause of death in the country. While smoking will remain the key form of prevention, this study indicates that a healthy diet filled with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may lower COPD risk, even among current smokers. So, fill your plate with healthy, nutritious foods. For COPD and optimal overall health, that age-old advice mom gave apparently is true: always eat your fruits and vegetables.

Would you like to learn more about our Pulmonary Wellness Program?

The Pulmonary Wellness Program located at the Orlando Health Medical Pavilion, across the street from Lucerne Pavilion, is a complete program of pulmonary rehabilitation designed to reduce the frequency and length of hospitalizations for people with chronic pulmonary disease.

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