Diet Rich in Apples, Tomatoes Could Speed Lung Repair in Former Smokers, Study Finds

Patrícia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patrícia Silva, PhD |

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A diet rich in fresh tomatoes and fruits, especially apples, slowed the natural decline of lung function over a 10-year period among former smokers, found a study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. In fact, these foods can help slow down the decline of lung function for all adults, including those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The study, “Dietary antioxidants and 10-year lung function decline in adults from the ECRHS survey,” appeared in the European Respiratory Journal, and was funded by the European Commission and led by Imperial College London.

The team analyzed diet and lung function of more than 650 British, German and Norwegian adults in 2002 and 2012. Participants filled out questionnaires about their food intake and did spirometry testing to measure lung capacity and function. Researchers took their age, height, body mass index, gender, socioeconomic status, physical activity and total energy intake into account.

They found that people who ate, on average, more than two tomatoes or more than three portions of fresh fruit daily had a slower decline in lung function than those who reported eating less than one tomato or one portion of fresh fruit every day.

Former smokers who ate a diet rich in tomatoes and fresh fruits had the most benefits.

“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,” Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, the study’s lead author, said in a press release. “The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD.”

Yet using tomatoes and fruits in cooked dishes or processed foods like tomato sauce didn’t achieve the same result as eating fresh fruits or vegetables when it came to repairing lung function, researchers said.

”Lung function starts to decline at around age 30 at variable speed depending on the general and specific health of individuals,” Garcia-Larsen said. “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 combatting rising diagnosis of COPD around the world.”

The paper was written as part of the Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts (ALEC) study, an initiative funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research funding program to improve understanding of risk factors for low lung function, respiratory disability and the development of COPD by using information within existing cohort studies.