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Diet and lung function: can eating fruit slow the decline?

By Jane Lewis
A diet high in fruit could delay the decline of lung function in adults, particularly ex-smokers, a 10-year investigation in adults from three European countries suggests. 

‘In recent years, we have come to understand that our eating patterns can affect our lungs,’ commented Professor Lisa Wood, Head of the Nutrition Research Group in the Priority Research Centre for Asthma and Respiratory Diseases, University of Newcastle, and President of the Nutrition Society of Australia. 

‘This study concurs with several large observational studies that have found a healthy dietary pattern rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and wholegrains can decrease the rate of lung function decline and reduce the risk of respiratory diseases, such as COPD and asthma, compared to an unhealthy diet,’ she said. 

Published in the European Respiratory Journal, the study used data from 680 adults (baseline mean age 43.8 years) participating in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey – a longitudinal, multicentre cohort study on the role of environmental risk factors in respiratory health. Participants completed questionnaires assessing diet and overall nutritional intake and underwent spirometry (forced exhaled volume in one second [FEV1] and forced vital capacity [FVC]) at baseline and 10 years later. 

Multivariable analyses revealed an association between a higher intake of fruits and a slower decline in lung function. Specifically, a per-tertile increase in apple and banana intake was associated with a 3.59 mL/year and 3.69 mL/year slower decline in FEV1 and FVC, respectively, while tomato intake was associated with a 4.5 mL/year slower decline in FVC. These associations remained significant after adjustment for a range of potential confounders. 

Subgroup analyses showed the results were ‘particularly strong’ in ex-smokers (comprising more than 40% of participants), leading the authors to suggest there was evidence that smoking modified the effect of fruit intake on FEV1 and FVC decline. 

‘In conclusion, our study suggests that dietary factors might play a role in preserving ventilatory function in adults, by slowing down a decline in lung function. In particular, dietary antioxidants possibly contribute to restoration, following damage caused by exposure to smoking, among adults who have quit,’ they wrote. 

According to Professor Wood, the link between fruit and vegetables and lung health was biologically plausible. 

‘Fruit and vegetables contain a wealth of nutrients that can reduce inflammation in the airways. This is likely to be behind the protective effects that have been observed in the lungs,’ she told Medicine Today.
Eur Respir J 2017; 50: 1602286 (https://doi.org/10.1183/13993003.02286-2016).

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