Study Reveals Benefits of Plant-Based Diet for Smokers and Former Smokers

by Ella

A recent study suggests that current and former smokers may significantly reduce their risk of developing emphysema by adopting a highly nutritious plant-based diet. Led by lead researcher Mariah Jackson, a registered dietitian nutritionist and assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the study highlights the potential of dietary choices in mitigating the risk of chronic lung diseases associated with smoking.

The study, which followed more than 1,700 participants over three decades as part of a long-term heart health study, found that individuals with a history of smoking who adhered to a plant-based diet experienced a 56% lower risk of developing emphysema compared to those who consumed more meat. Furthermore, the inclusion of a greater variety of vegetables and fruits in the diet was associated with a lower risk of emphysema.


Jackson emphasizes the importance of identifying modifiable factors such as diet in reducing the risk of chronic lung diseases among individuals with a history of smoking. These findings align with previous research indicating a link between dietary choices and lung health, including reductions in wheezing among children and decreased occurrence of asthma in both children and adults.


The study participants, all current or former smokers by year 20 of the study, completed questionnaires tracking their dietary history and quality. Over 1,300 participants underwent a CT scan at year 25 to assess the development of emphysema and other health issues.


Emphysema, a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), results from irreversible damage to the air sacs in the lungs, leading to impaired oxygen transfer to the bloodstream and persistent shortness of breath.


Results from the study indicate that for each one-unit increase in participants’ plant-based diet score, the risk of emphysema decreased by 34%. This suggests that the risk declined as individuals incorporated more plant-based foods into their diets.

Published recently in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases: Journal of the COPD Foundation, the findings underscore the potential of a healthy diet to benefit smokers, even those facing challenges in quitting smoking. Jackson emphasizes the need for further research to determine the optimal timing for dietary interventions to impact lung health, particularly in children and young adults. This could inform public health guidelines and dietary recommendations aimed at reducing the burden of chronic lung diseases associated with smoking.



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