Could a Healthy Diet Mean Healthy Lungs?
A healthy diet is always recommended for its multitude of benefits, and now healthy lungs have been added to the list of reasons to consume the right foods. A diet filled with certain healthy food groups has been linked to a reduced chance of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in a study which tracked the lifestyles and medical histories of a large sample of men and women for over a decade.
The Details of the Study
Researchers at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Villejuif followed 120,000 people and found that those who ate the most whole grains, nuts and vegetables – and the least red meats and sugars – were up to 33% less likely to develop COPD than the less healthy eaters. These results were even the same in smokers and held true regardless of factors such as age, weight and exercise habits. The participants’ diets were rated based on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010 (AHEI-2010) – a measure of dietary quality based on current scientific evidence about the effects of nutrients on health risks. High scores on this index are generally associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases.
“I think that we need to emphasise the role of diet in respiratory diseases, which is largely unknown by the general audience,” says Dr Raphaëlle Varasso, lead author of the study.
What is COPD?
COPD is a term which covers a group of progressive lung diseases that cause respiratory problems, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some types of asthma. It is one of the most common respiratory diseases in the UK, with an estimated 3 million sufferers, of which fewer than one million have been diagnosed. Each year it kills around 30,000 people, which is only 5000 less than lung cancer.
Dr Varasso points out that while the predominant risk factor of COPD is smoking, “up to one third of COPD patients have never smoked, thus suggesting that other factors are involved.”
There are some limitations to be considered in regards to the results of this research. Dr Norman H. Edelman, senior consultant for scientific affairs at the American Lung Association, says that the study only “suggests that there may be a link” between diet and lungs, rather than establishing cause and effect. However, he added that the study “used a large database and suggests that diet may play a substantial role in lowering the risk.” It has also been noted by Dr Varraso that the results only offer information about the effects of a healthy diet on the risk of COPD, and does not give us information about how diet affects those who already have COPD.
While the most important preventative measure to take against COPD is still to avoid smoking, the evidence from this sizeable study suggests that a healthy diet could play a key role in maintaining healthy lungs.