Healthy Diet May Be Linked to Lower Risk of Lung Disease
Monday, March 02, 2015 01:27 PM

A healthy diet low in red meat and rich in whole grains might reduce the risk of developing the crippling chronic lung disease known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), new research suggests.

Researchers tracked more than 120,000 men and women and found healthy eaters were one-third less likely to develop COPD compared to big consumers of red meat, refined grains, sugary drinks and alcohol.

"The predominant risk factor for COPD in the developed world is cigarette smoking," said study lead author, “but up to one-third of COPD patients have never smoked, suggesting that other factors are involved.”  The finding builds on a wide body of prior research suggesting that a healthy diet lowers the risk for heart disease and cancer. And good eating habits seem to lower COPD risk for both smokers and nonsmokers alike.

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an umbrella term for several chronic lung diseases, including emphysema and bronchitis, that lead to blocked air passages and restricted oxygen flow. Routine breathing can be difficult and painful for someone with COPD -- the third leading cause of death in America, according to the American Lung Association.

"Although COPD prevention efforts should continue to focus on smoking cessation, our results encourage clinicians to consider the potential role of the combined effect of foods in a healthy diet in promoting lung health," said the report.

Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, called the findings "reasonable.”  "As always,” she said, "we need to keep in mind that this type of study suggests potential causes or factors, but does not prove cause." She also stressed that healthy eaters are also more likely to engage in other healthy behaviors.  "With that said, a healthy diet pattern has been connected with decreasing risk of several other chronic diseases that develop over an extended period of time, so why should it be any different with COPD?