Fruits reduce lung damage

Print edition : January 19, 2018

Lycopene, a phytonutrient abundant in tomatoes, can boost lung health. Photo: K.K. Mustafah

Ex-smokers take heart. Tomatoes and other fruits such as apples may help reduce the damage caused by tobacco.

A study by researchers at a public health institute in the United States found that the natural decline in lung function was slower among former smokers who had a diet rich in fruits, especially tomatoes and apples. The researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who published the results of the study in the European Respiratory Journal recently, followed the study participants for 10 years.

Studies in the past have shown that lycopene, a phytonutrient abundant in tomatoes, can boost lung health.

The researchers found that adults who, on an average, ate more than two tomatoes or more than three portions of fresh fruit a day had a slower decline in lung function compared with those who ate less than one tomato or less than one portion of fruit a day, respectively. The protective effect was observed only in fresh fruit and vegetables, not in processed food preparations.

“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 ageing process even if you have never smoked,” said Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health and the study’s lead author.

“The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease].”

For the study, the team assessed diet and lung function of more than 650 adults from three European countries—Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom— in 2002, and then repeated lung function tests on the same group of participants 10 years later. The participants 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 other fruits had around 80 ml slower decline over the 10-year period. This suggests that nutrients in their diets were helping to repair the damage done by smoking. The total lung capacity of an average healthy adult is said to be six litres.

Compiled by T.V. Jayan

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