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 NutritionFacts.org video pick featured above.
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.