Eating More Fruits and Tomatoes May Improve Lung Function

Eating More Fruits and Tomatoes Associated With Slower Decline in Lung Function, Particularly in Ex-smokers

Background: In healthy adults after 30 years of age, there is a gradual worsening (decline) in lung function. This is considered a normal part of aging. However, in someone who has COPD and continues to smoke, lung function worsens (declines) at a rate 2 – 3 times faster than a normal healthy person. Stopping smoking is important for those with COPD because it slows down the worsening in lung function.
Eating more fruits and tomatoes is healthy.

Fruits and vegetables

Whether diet affects changes in lung function over time is unclear. It has been suggested that eating foods rich in antioxidants (fruits and vegetables) may also help to slow down worsening.
Dr. Vanessa Garcia Larsen

Vanessa Garcia Larsen, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Study: Dr. Garcia Larsen and colleagues from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health studied adults from three different countries (Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom) 10 years apart. In 2002, subjects answered questions about the types of foods that they ate and how often (called a food frequency questionnaire) and also performed breathing tests. Ten years later, these same subjects were invited to return for repeat breathing tests. The study was published on-line on December 21, 2017, in the European Respiratory Journal. Two breathing test results were evaluated: 1. the amount of air exhaled in one second called FEV1; and 2. the total amount of air exhaled called FVC.  
FEV1 is used to grade COPD severity and assess COPD prognosis

Diagram of spirometry to diagnose COPD. FEV1 is the amount of air exhaled in one second.

  Results: A total of 680 individuals were evaluated at the two time periods as part of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Average age was 44 years. Over 40% smoked cigarettes at some point during the ten years, and 16% were current smokers at the time of the 2nd breathing tests. On average, subjects in the study ate four fruits each day.
Eating fruits and tomatoes including tomaotes slows decline in lung function

Jar of tomatoes

The major findings were: 1. in all subjects, eating tomatoes was associated with a slower decline in both FEV1 and FVC – this was particularly evident in ex-smokers; 2. a higher intake of fruits in middle-aged individuals was associated with a slower decline in FEV1; and 3. a higher intake of apples, bananas, tomatoes, herbal tea, and Vitamin C was associated with a slower decline in FVC. Conclusions: The authors concluded that eating more fruits and tomatoes is associated with a slower decline in lung function, particularly in ex-smokers. My Comments: Although this study was performed in the general population, the results appear to be relevant to those with COPD. Many fruits contain various antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body including the lungs. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene – a carotenoid – which also has antioxidant activity. I encourage those with COPD to try – eating more fruits and tomatoes – as part of your daily diet. These are natural foods that are not only heart healthy, but may also help to slow worsening of lung function.    

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.