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Wednesday, 31 July, 2002, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
Veg-eating smokers 'cheat illness'
Apples
Increasing fruit intake may boost your chances
Smoking makes you prone to serious chest illnesses - but eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is likely to cut the risk, say experts.

Scientists have always wondered why some heavy smokers fall ill as a result of their habit, but others stay in reasonably good health.

It is suspected that genes may play a role, along with diet and other lifestyle factors.

Evidence to support the diet link was published this week in the European Respiratory Journal.


Giving up smoking entirely is still the best way of avoiding COPD

Dr Louise Watson, Southampton University
A study of 300 smokers, who were all over 45 years old and had smoked the equivalent of a pack of 20 cigarettes a day for a decade, found that it appeared to have a significant influence.

The risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a progressive and incurable combination of bronchitis and emphysema - dropped by more than half when smokers ate more than 121 grams of fruit and vegetables a day.

The study suggested that it was the combination of fruit and vegetables, rather than the sheer quantity of each, that was important in disease prevention.

Unique effect

Dr Louise Watson led the study at the University of Southampton.

She said: "No other food groups such as fish and dairy, or proteins, fats and snack items were significantly protective or harmful, which suggests the effect is specific to fruit and vegetables and not due to the effect of COPD on overall calorie or food intake."

Smoking/Ashtray
Giving up smoking is still the best strategy
This adds to evidence that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is beneficial.

Some studies have suggested that it cuts the risk of cardiovascular disease.

How it does this is not entirely understood, although it is thought that antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables may help "mop up" potentially harmful molecules called "free radicals", which might be circulating in the body causing damage.

Cigarette smoke contains a large amount of free radicals, which scientists believe can damage cells and cause malignant changes.

Dr Watson said that while eating well might reduce the chances of falling ill, there was still an increased risk compared to someone who gave up smoking entirely.

She said: "Giving up smoking entirely is still the best way of avoiding COPD."

Dr Martyn Partridge, chairman of the British Thoracic Society, agrees.

He told BBC News Online: "Nothing can detract from the need for everyone, and for those with lung disease especially, to stop smoking.

"It is a tragedy that 40 years after the dangers of smoking were clearly demonstrated we still allow the promotion of such a dangerous product.

"For those who are addicted, however, and for others who want to maintain good lung health, this important study is yet another linking diet with lung disease, and the conclusions are sound and sensible".

See also:

11 Jan 02 | Health
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