Have You Ever Smoked? The Produce Department Is Calling

Why It Matters:

• The more you exceed recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, chances of developing COPD are significantly reduced, scientists say.

• Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect the lungs.

• COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Lillian Kafka tkc.profilePicture Written by: Lillian Kafka | Transamerica
April 05, 2017

3-4 Min readClock Icon

Smokers: consider this a renewed (and concerted) call to eat your fruits and vegetables.

As you may know, eating the right amount of fruits and vegetables for your age and body type offers many health benefits, like preventing heart disease and certain types of cancer – maybe even losing weight.

Now European researchers say there’s a new reason to meet – and exceed – these daily recommendations: to reduce your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) if you have ever or currently smoke cigarettes.

COPD is typically diagnosed in the later years of one’s life – right about the time they are catching up for retirement and ready to start enjoying the money they’ve saved. A recent study points to the important role of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, while confirming the strong link between smoking cigarettes and COPD.

The team of researchers reported that current and ex-smokers who exceeded the daily serving recommendations of fruit and vegetables had less chance of developing COPD. The study, Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of COPD: a prospective cohort study of men, examined more than 44,000 men over 13 years. The researchers are from the Unit for Lung and Airway Research and the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden; and the Department of Human Nutrition, Warsaw University of Life Sciences–SGGW, Poland.

The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables protect against the damaging, oxidizing effects of smoking on the lungs, researchers hypothesized. Exceeding typical serving suggestions of fruits and vegetables – essentially loading bodies with antioxidants – seemed to be the key to reducing risk.

The USDA suggests that about half of your plate include fruits and vegetables. The Swedish researchers found reduced risk of COPD in men who ate above and beyond that green, leafy standard.

For current smokers, eating more than five daily servings reduced the risk of COPD by 40%, compared to eating less than two servings. Ex-smokers who ate more than five servings saw a 34% reduction in risk versus those who ate less than two servings a day.

They said each additional daily serving in total fruit and vegetable consumption decreased the risk of COPD by 8% in current smokers and 4% in ex-smokers.

There was no connection between COPD risk and fruit and vegetable consumption for people who never smoked, they said.

The physical and economic costs of COPD

For a disease that’s been named the third leading cause of death for Americans, COPD is a formidable, chronic lung disease. Also called emphysema or chronic bronchitis, it’s significantly linked to smoking cigarettes and progressively gets worse over time.

It damages the lungs, making it hard to breath and can impact day-to-day activities, like work, sleep, and even doing housework or getting dressed.

COPD can cost mobility, the ability to work, and up to nearly $4,000 a year in medical expenses.

In the worst-case scenario, it can be debilitating. And those with the disease are less likely to return to work. In fact, those who are over 51 years old who suffer from strokes and heart attacks have a better chance of returning to work than someone who is disabled by COPD.

And if that’s the case, you’re 8% less likely to be able to keep your job during a crucial time for earning wages to button up your retirement savings.

No one wishes to be diagnosed with a chronic, incurable disease that literally robs you of your breath. But COPD is highly preventable. Don’t smoke. If you still do – and you’ve heard this a thousand times – the first and best way of preventing respiratory disease is quitting.

And now, with this additional research, you might have another way to stave off the oxidizing and damaging effects of poor air quality – more and more fruits and vegetables.

Things to Consider:

  • No matter if you’ve smoked or not, consider increasing your fruit and vegetable intake.
  • Instead of eating a processed snack or carbs, eat a cup of vegetables or fruit.

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