A new study conducted as part of the Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts project, led by Imperial College London, had found higher consumption of fruits and vegetables to be protective of lung health in non-smokers, and even more so in people with a history of tobacco use.
For the study, the research team assessed the diet and lung function of more than 650 adults from Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom in 2002 and again in 2012.
The participants also provided information on their overall diets, and agreed to undergo spirometry – a type of test which measures the capacity of lungs to take in oxygen.
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, also controlled for age, sex, height, body mass index, socio-economic status, physical activity, and total energy intake to weed out any potential confounding variables.
Results showed that people who ate in excess of two tomatoes or more than three portions of fresh fruit per day showed markedly slower natural decline in lung function. Tomatoes and (especially) apples were found to provide the most proverbial bang for the buck.
The effect was most salient in ex-smokers, although it only showed up in connection with natural produce – foods containing fruits and vegetables in highly processed from conferred no measurable benefit.
“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,” said lead author on the study Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, PhD from the Department of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Previous studies have shown that lung function starts to decline around the age of 30 and is modulated by the aging process in general, and the health status of specific individuals in particular.
According to Garcia-Larsen, the study indicates that a varied diet rich in fresh (but not processed) fruits and vegetables can not only slow down the natural and foreseeable decline in lung function, but also heal some of the damage inflicted by smoking.
“Diet could become one way of combating rising diagnosis of COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] around the world,” concluded Garcia-Larsen.