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Thursday, 20 January, 2000, 01:27 GMT
Apples 'protect the lungs'

Apples Apples can help you breathe

Eating an apple a day may be good for the lungs, researchers have discovered.

A team from St George's Hospital Medical School, London, studied the diets and lung function of more than 2,500 men aged 45-49.

The researchers measured the ability to breathe out sharply using a special test called an FEV1.

This study highlights a new way that people can potentially protect their lungs
Dr Mark Britton, chairman, British Lung Foundation
They found that good lung function was associated with high intakes of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, citrus fruits, apples, and fruit juices.

However, after they took into consideration factors such as body mass, smoking history and exercise the only food that seemed to make a significant difference was apples.

It was found that eating five or more apples a week was linked to a slightly better lung function.

Those who ate apples had a lung capacity 138 millilitres higher than those who did not.

There was no evidence to suggest that the natural decline in lung function with age could be slowed by short term increases in the number of apples eaten.

But the fruit might slow deterioration caused by other factors such as pollutants.

Eating a lot of apples might simply reflect a healthy diet, suggest the authors.

Antioxidant role

But apples contain high levels of an antioxidant flavonoid called quercetin which is also found abundantly in onions, tea and red wine, and may be important in protecting the lungs from the harmful effects of atmospheric pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Dr Mike Pearson, a former press officer for the British Thoracic Society, said the theory was "plausible".

He said there were several studies supporting the idea that diets high in Vitamins C and E may be good for preventing asthma, and it might be that apples contained other antioxidants that produced the same effect.

Dr Pearson said: "The idea is that people with high levels of antioxidants circulating in their blood are in a better position to deal with an inflammatory reaction when it occurs."

The body produces an inflammatory reaction in response to foreign invaders, such as pollutants. This reaction releases highly reactive molecules known as free radicals which cause damage to the tissue.

Antioxidants work by mopping up these free radicals before they can cause damage.

Dr Pearson said that if Vitamins C and E were shown to be effective in helping asthma sufferers, they might also act to slow deterioration of lung function in other people.

Chairman of the British Lung Foundation, Dr Mark Britton, said the research provided more "exciting evidence" of a link between a healthy diet and healthy lungs.

He said: "More importantly, this study also highlights a new way that people can potentially protect their lungs - as well as helping people with lung disease breathe easy."

The research is published in the medical journal Thorax.

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