Ex-smokers with a diet rich in apples and tomatoes, in particular, have better chances of restoring their lung functions than those who skimp on these foods, according to the research published in the European Respiratory Journal.
The researchers found that adults who on average ate more than two tomatoes or more than 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 inquired about other dietary sources such as dishes and processed foods containing fruits and vegetables (e.g. tomato sauce) but the protective effect was only observed in fresh fruit and vegetables.
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The paper also found a slower decline in lung function among all adults, including those who had never or had stopped smoking, with the highest tomato consumption. Poor lung function has been linked with mortality risks from all diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, and lung cancer.
“This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking,” said lead author Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health. “It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung’s natural aging process even if you have never smoked.”
For the study, the 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 10 years later.
Among former smokers, the diet-lung-function connection was striking. Ex-smokers who ate a diet high in tomatoes and fruits had around 80 ml slower decline over the ten-year period. This suggests that nutrients in their diets are helping to repair the 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,” explains 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.”