A 13-year observational study tracking the diet and development of COPD in Swedish men published in Thorax Feb. 22 found men who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily were 35% less likely to develop lung disease than those who ate two or less daily.
A closer look at the participants who currently or formerly smoked and ate five or more servings of produce revealed an even sharper benefit with a reduced risk of 40% and 34% respectively, the research reports.
The risk for developing COPD continued to fall 4% with each additional serving per day of fruits and vegetables that formers smokers self-reported eating and 8% among current smokers, the researchers add.
While apples get all the credit in the adage, pears, green leafy vegetables and peppers also offered significant benefit, the study found. However, it added, the same cannot be said for berries, bananas, citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, root vegetables, tomatoes, onions, garlic and green peas.
Reflecting on their findings, the researchers hypothesized that the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables reduced the impact of smoking as a trigger for oxidative stress and inflammation, which contribute to COPD development.
Because the study is observational, no firm conclusions can be drawn to support definitive courses of action or recommendations, public health advocates emphasize in an editorial that the journal also published the same day.
However, they add, because the benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are so widely recognized beyond their potential impact on COPD, “there is nothing to be lost by acting now” on the study’s findings.
“We would argue that clinicians should consider the potential benefits of a healthy diet in promoting lung health, and advocate optimizing intake of fruits and vegetables, especially in smokers who are unable to stop smoking,” they say.