BALTIMORE — Did your new year’s resolution include cutting out cigarettes in 2018? You may want to head to the produce aisle of your local grocery store then. Ex-smokers concerned about the deterioration of their lungs can help slow the decline of the vital organs by adding more apples and tomatoes to their diets, a new study finds.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health evaluated 650 adults from Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom in 2002, testing their lung functionality by measuring the amount of air they can exhale in one second and inhale in six seconds.
Participants would again have their lungs tested 10 years from the start of the study. The individuals also recorded their diets and nutritional intake at both points.
The team discovered that former smokers in the study who ate at least two tomatoes or three servings of fruit — particularly apples — each day had stronger functioning lungs than participants who only consumed one tomato or less than one serving of fruit.
While high tomato consumption proved to slow decline in participants regardless of their smoking status, the results were especially remarkable among former smokers. That segment recorded a significantly slower decline over the 10 years when their diets included more servings of tomatoes and fruits.
Researchers believe the finding may indicate that the produce-rich diets are actually healing lungs damaged by cigarettes.
“Lung function starts to decline at around age 30 at variable speed depending on the general and specific health of individuals,” says Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor in the school’s Department of International Health and the study’s lead author, in a news release. “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.”
Before you stock up on products like pasta sauce and apple juice, the researchers point out that the benefits were only seen in participants who ate fresh tomatoes or fruits, not processed foods.
The results are also worth considering for people who simply want to keep a healthier set of pipes as they get older.
“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 aging process even if you have never smoked,” says Garcia-Larsen. “The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD.”
The study’s findings were published last month in the European Respiratory Journal.