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Treating COPD With Diet

The three top killers in the United States are no longer heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Stroke just moved down to number four. Number three is now COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, meaning respiratory disorders such as emphysema. We know we can prevent and even help treat the other top killers with diet (see, for example, Ending Heart Disease and my 4-min. video Cancer Reversal Through Diet?), but what about COPD? Though most COPD is caused by tobacco, up to a third of COPD sufferers never smoked. The title of an editorial in the upcoming June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition describes where some of the remainder of risk is coming from: “More Evidence for the Importance of Nutritional Factors in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.”

As I explore in my 2-min. video Preventing COPD with Diet, data dating back 50 years found that high intake of fruits and vegetables was positively associated with lung function in general, but does that mean it could prevent COPD? There’s been a burst of new research over the last ten years to answer just that question.

In 2002 we learned that every extra serving of fruit we add to our daily diet may reduce our risk of getting and then eventually dying from COPD. In 2006 we added tea drinking to fruits and vegetables for COPD prevention. In 2007 a twin pair of studies emerged, one from Columbia and another from Harvard, implicating cured meats such as bacon, bologna, ham, hot dogs, sausage, and salami as a risk factor for developing COPD. They thought the nitrite preservatives in the meat might be mimicking the damage done by the nitrites from cigarette smoke (see my 2-min. video When Nitrites Go Bad for more). In 2008, Harvard decided to study women as well and came to the same conclusions. We know now what to go out of our way to eat and what to try to avoid.

In 2009, soy was added to the good list; both tofu and soymilk were found to be protective agents against breathlessness. A 2010 article racked up the benefits of fiber, especially from whole grains, but “Impact of Dietary Shift to Higher-Antioxidant Foods in COPD: A Randomized Trial” was the study we’ve all been waiting for. Sure, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory effects of plant foods can help prevent COPD, but what if you already have the disease? Check out my profile of this landmark study in today’s video pick featured above.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you really were going to infuse lamb carcasses with kiwi fruit juice, would the juice of green or yellow kiwis be healthier? Find out in my 4-min. video Antioxidant Content of 3,139 foods.

Antioxidants: Plant vs. Animal Foods
The Best Detox
Harvard’s Meat and Mortality Studies

Read more: COPD, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, Food, Health, Videos, ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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9:21AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013


4:42AM PDT on Apr 30, 2013

Thanks for the information.

10:58PM PDT on Apr 29, 2013


10:24AM PDT on Sep 9, 2012


2:45AM PDT on Aug 30, 2012


10:48AM PDT on Jul 30, 2012

Interesting- living with COPD can be very limiting to one's mobility.

11:18PM PDT on Jul 28, 2012

I don't know...but it wouldn't hurt to try.

9:20AM PDT on Jun 2, 2012

Well, at least in this post Gergen isn't blaming all meat for causing health problems but is actually called attention to a greater evil, the nitrites or nitrates that are added to it.

But then he goes and blows it by listing soy as being on the "good" list. Really?!? He's supposed to be a nutritionist and yet he completely overlooks all of the huge problems associated with unfermented soy products?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that a vegan would point the finger at meat for all of our health woes but completely ignore those that are caused by plant-sourced foods.

Get this crackpot off of the care2 site.

9:50AM PDT on May 28, 2012

Now I've seen everything - Acai berries added to cigarettes??
Is that supposed to make them "better" for you?
No smoking, it has to be the stupidest thing you can do to your body.

6:21AM PDT on May 28, 2012

What about people with pulmonary arterial hypertension?

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