Eat Right and Breathe Easy
WebMD News Archive
Participants were asked about smoking status (years of smoking, current
number of cigarettes smoked per day, years since quitting) and about their diet
and vitamin supplement intake in the preceding 24 hours. Each also was given a
blood test to determine exact levels of the four vitamins.
"We found that people with high levels of antioxidants [in their diet]
had better lung function," Hu tells WebMD. They also found the protective
effect was different depending on the smoking status and varied with different
antioxidants. "Beta carotene had a less protective effect for smokers. And
the more they smoked, the less protected they are. In fact, beta carotene
offered almost no protection for heavy smokers," Hu says. However,
"selenium provides strong protection for smokers in general.
"Overall, it gives us another reason that eating fruits and vegetables
is good," Hu tells WebMD. "The magnitude of effect is very strong, very
significant" in the study, he says.
While the evidence regarding diet was encouraging, taking vitamin
supplements did not seem to make a difference, Hu adds.
Why? One reason, says Hu, may be because people generally take vitamins when
they are unhealthy. "So you may find that people who use supplements have
lower lung function than those who did not."
He says that survey questions were too broad to provide a cause-and-effect
between vitamins and lung protection. Questioners only asked whether vitamin
supplements had been taken within the past month. "That reflects only
recent intake but does not reflect long-term intake. [They] may have started
taking because having a health problem," Hu says.
Lou Ann Brown, PhD, says that while you can't reverse lung disease by eating
right, you may be able to prevent further decrease in lung function as you age.
"Eating right can decrease the aging process of the lung by four years
because antioxidants provide protection from pollutions in air. Particularly in
metropolitan areas, we have lots of ozone and fumes and oxygen radicals in the
air from everything," she tells WebMD. Brown, a biochemist and associate
professor of pediatrics at Emory School of Medicine, has herself researched the
"What mamma told you was right. Eat your fruits and vegetables," she
says. "There probably are other protective agents we're not aware of yet
that are in fruits and vegetables, and by just taking supplements, you don't
get those. The National Institutes of Health says eat five fruits and
vegetables a day, so this is in keeping with that policy."