New Zealand

High-fibre diet improves lung health in smokers

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Diet has an important effect on lung health, Auckland researchers have found
Diet has an important effect on lung health, Auckland researchers have found

Related tags Nutrition Lung

Auckland University researchers have found that a diet that is high in fibre helps reduce harmful inflammation in the lungs of smokers.

While quitting smoking remains the single best action smokers can take to reduce their risk of getting lung cancer or smoker’s lung—also called emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Effect on inflammation

The accumulated data suggests a diet that is high in fibre also confers significant benefits, such as reducing lung inflammation.

This inflammation has been shown to have a critical role in causing progressive lung damage, ultimately leading to lung diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer, shortening a smoker’s life by up to 15-20 years.

Earlier this year an article in Nature Medicine ​reported on a study showing mice fed a high-fibre diet had significantly less harmful inflammation in their lungs.

The Auckland paper, compiled by research lead Associate Professor Robert Young, was published this month in the European Respiratory Review,​ a leading lung journal.

Protective bacteria

This helps confirm our conclusions from earlier observations indicating diet has important effects on lung health​,” said Young. 

This study supports the key hypothesis that the beneficial effects of a high-fibre diet come largely through increased absorption of naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory chemicals [called small-chain fatty acids] produced by “protective” gut bacteria​.

These protective bacteria flourish in the gut of people consuming a high fibre diet, but diminish in those whose diets are low in fibre and high in refined foods, where “harmful” gut bacteria predominate​.”

On the basis of this work, Young and his colleagues are working with leading researchers worldwide to explore this relationship further and identify how a diet high in fibre might reduce the damaging effects of smoking on the lungs.

Through better engagement of smokers, screening for early lung damage and lifestyle interventions such as better diet and quitting smoking, much of the burden from smoking on the healthcare system could be reduced​” said Young.

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