People who eat a healthy diet that is low in red meat and contains a lot of whole grains and nuts appear to have a lower risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A large study found that healthy eating was associated with a one-third lower risk of developing COPD when compared to eating a lot of red meat, refined grains, and alcohol.
Researchers in France and the United States looked at the eating habits of more than 73,000 women enrolled in the U.S. Nurses' Health Study between 1984 and 2000 and 47,000 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study between 1986 and 1998. Their diets were scored based on the Alternate Health Eating Index 2010, which is a measure of the quality of a person's diet. Over the course of the study, 723 women and 167 men developed COPD.
When the diet of these COPD patients was analyzed, the researchers found that the risk of COPD was far lower among those whose diets contained things like vegetables, whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, and nuts, and was low in red meats, processed meats, and sugar. This finding was true even after other factors such as smoking history, age, and physical activity were taken into account.
A healthy diet has been linked with reducing the risk of several diseases, including cancer and heart disease. However, this study looked at the eating habits of health professionals, who are more likely that most to lead an overall healthy lifestyle. The finding is an association, which means that there may not be a cause-and-effect relationship between diet and lung disease.
COPD is a group of several severe and chronic lung conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It can be crippling and is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The single biggest cause of COPD is smoking, but one third of cases occur in people who did not smoke.
The study was published in the journal BMJ and is online at http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h286.