An apple a day does keep the doctor away

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A study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore in America, found the natural decline in lung function over a 10-year period was slower among former smokers with a diet high in tomatoes and fruits, especially apples, suggesting certain components in these foods might help restore lung damage caused by smoking.

“Anything that brings hope to the many battling illness is something we will celebrate”, says Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing managing director Roelf Pienaar, adding: “but the fact that a wholly natural product has been shown to improve recovery in people who stop smoking, is a wonderful way to start the new year.”

The study, titled “Dietary antioxidants and 10-year lung function decline in adults from the ECRHS survey” was written by Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, James F Potts, Ernst Omenaas, Joachim Heinrich, Cecilie Svanes, Judith Garcia-Aymerich, Peter G Burney, and Deborah L Jarvis.

Ms Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health and the study’s lead author, explains: “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 ageing process even if you have never smoked.”

The findings, which appear in the December 2017 issue of the European Respiratory Journal, support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

For the study, the research 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. Participants from three European countries – Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom – completed questionnaires assessing their diets and overall nutritional intake. They also underwent spirometry, a procedure that measures the capacity of lungs to take in oxygen.

The test collects two standard measurements of lung function: Forced Exhaled Volume in one second (FEV1), which measures how much air a person can expel from their lungs in one second; and Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), the total amount of air a person can inhale in six seconds. The study controlled for factors such as age, height, sex, body mass index (an indicator of obesity), socio-economic status, physical activity and total energy intake.

Among former smokers, the diet-lung-function connection was even more striking. Ex-smokers who ate a diet high in tomatoes and fruits such as apples had around 80ml slower decline over the 10-year period. This suggests that nutrients in their diets are helping to repair 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 Ms 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.”