So the ultimate question becomes could eating more fruits and vegetables help you live to a ripe old age?
For smokers who've managed to quit, the road to fully repairing lungs damaged by the habit may seem like a long one.
The protective effect surfaced only with fresh fruit and vegetables, not in cooked dishes, like tomato sauce, nor in processed foods containing fruits and vegetables. A new study has shown that person who eats two tomatoes per day promotes the slower rate of natural lung function decline.
The paper, which is part of the Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts (ALEC) Study, funded by the European Commission and led by Imperial College London, also found a slower decline in lung function among all adults with the highest tomato consumption, including those who had never lit up or had stopped smoking.
"This study shows that diet might help fix lung damage in people who have stopped smoking", says Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor of global health in the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Poor lung function is linked with mortality risks from all diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and lung cancer.
"In public health we're always very focused on treating a disease, but by advising people what to eat we have a unique opportunity to reduce the risk of disease incidence", said Garcia-Larsen.
The study also found one particular new contender in the fight to keep lungs healthy: tomatoes. In the study, scientists analysed data from 680 people in Germany, England and Norway who signed up for a health survey in 2002. Then, they repeated the same tests over 10 years, and spotted a decline slower by 80 ml in those who consumed a diet rich in tomatoes and apples.
Also, the participants were given a spirometry test that measures how much oxygen their lungs can take in.
One weakness of the study was that participants' diets were assessed only at the start of the study. 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.
She further added that diet could enhance one way of fighting rising diagnosis of COPD around the world.
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