Plus—the popular recommendations you should ignore to breathe a little easier
In recent years, big pharma has been making a killing pushing dangerous drugs to treat deadly lung diseases.
And that means mainstream medicine has hardly been waiting with “bated breath,” so to speak, for research into natural ways to prevent diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic emphysema and bronchitis.
Even integrative medicine’s so-called “natural know-it-alls” have virtually nothing to say about alternative approaches to protecting your lungs.
This is a huge omission considering that lung disease is the No. 3 killer of Americans today—behind only heart disease and cancer.1
And lung cancer by far remains the top cause of all cancer deaths—killing more Americans per year than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.2
What the government doesn’t want you to know about lung disease
Of course, it’s not just research on natural approaches to lung health that’s being ignored.
All research on the causes, prevention, and treatment of lung diseases has been effectively discouraged by the U.S. government—ever since the National Cancer Institute made its politically motivated decision to pursue smoking prevention and cessation as the end-all and be-all of lung disease… for everyone.
I’ve written many times before about how this philosophy is flat-out wrong, with devastating consequences for patients and medical practice in the U.S. (You can read more in my archives by searching “smoking cessation” in the search bar on my website, www.DrMicozzi.com.)
But that all changes beginning right here, right now.
Two new studies have found that eating fruits and vegetables containing carotenoids can help improve lung health and function, and even prevent lung cancer.
Amazingly, this new research shows that a healthy diet can help alleviate—and even reverse—smoke-related effects on the lungs.
Meanwhile, several recent studies show that antioxidants, like carotenoids and vitamins C and E, can also substantially lower your lung cancer risk.
Let’s take a closer look…
Two tomatoes a day keeps the doctor away
In the first study, researchers with Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore assessed diet and lung function in more than 650 adults in 2002. Then, they measured the study participants’ lung function 10 years later.3
The lung function tests tracked how much air a person can exhale in one second and inhale over six seconds. Other factors such as age, height, weight, gender, physical activity, and socioeconomic status were taken into account in determining the association between diet and lung function.
The researchers found that adults who ate more than two servings of tomatoes a day had better lung function and a slower rate of decline in lung function, which begins to happen normally after age 30.
Among former smokers, the effect was even stronger, suggesting that this dietary factor helped repair all damage done by tobacco to the lungs.
So, why tomatoes? A second new study on lung cancer may hold the key.
Carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables lower lung cancer risk
In this study, Canadian researchers examined the roles of the carotenoids beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene, as well as vitamin C, in the development of lung cancer.4
The researchers obtained dietary information from 1,105 people with lung cancer and 1,449 people without cancer. They looked at how often all of the study participants ate 49 different fruits and vegetables for two years prior to diagnosis. And they assessed potential confounding factors like age, weight, and physical activity, along with smoking history.
Researchers found that the study participants with higher beta-carotene levels (from foods) had an average lung cancer risk reduction of 34 percent. Beta-carotene is found in foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, leafy green vegetables, cantaloupe, and—as we saw in the first study—tomatoes.
Participants with higher beta-cryptoxanthin consumption had an average lung cancer risk reduction of 35 percent. Foods rich in this carotenoid include red peppers, pumpkins, squash, and tangerines.
Finally, the participants who had higher lycopene levels had a 25 percent lower risk of lung cancer. As I first discovered in the mid-1980s, tomatoes are a top source of lycopene, along with watermelon and grapefruit.
Meanwhile, higher vitamin C, which is found in all of the foods mentioned above, reduced lung cancer risk by 26 percent.
All of the carotenoids studied showed a protective effect in men who were heavy smokers. And higher vitamin C also showed a protective effect in women who were heavy smokers.
Of course, the U.S. government’s one-size-fits-all, blanket approach to health ignores this and other research disparities between the sexes.
Even though our own analysis at the National Cancer Institute 25 years ago revealed this important difference. (To learn more, check out “The real war on women’s health” in the May 2017 issue of Insiders’ Cures. You can access this by logging into my website.)
Antioxidant vitamins join carotenoids in promoting lung health
Meanwhile, half a dozen other studies show vitamin E and vitamin A (which should also be absorbed through your diet, as many carotenoids only convert to A in the body) help prevent lung cancer.
A new study on vitamin E looked at six decades of research and found that subjects with the highest levels of E intake, on average, had 16 percent less lung cancer risk compared to those with the lowest vitamin levels.5
Plus, for every 2 mg-per-day increase in vitamin E intake, the risk of lung cancer decreased by 5 percent. Just a 2 mg increase sounds miniscule but is key for lung health.
Vitamins E and C and carotenoids are all antioxidants, so it makes sense that they would all contribute to lung health and lower the risk of lung diseases, including cancer. (For my recommended dosages, refer to the 4-step plan outlined in the sidebar.)
Science supports a simple, drug-free approach to lung health
The findings in these new studies clearly show there’s much more to lung health than what mainstream has told us.
In fact, the authors of the Canadian study wrote: “Other modifiable risk factors must be identified so that all possible lung cancer prevention strategies can be implemented.”
They added: “The multifactorial etiology of lung cancer suggests that factors other than smoking, such as diet, can influence its occurrence.”
At last! Of course, whether the U.S. mainstream finally embraces these findings that carotenoid- and antioxidant-rich foods lower the risk of lung diseases (as well as vision problems, which I discuss below) all remains to be seen.
For example, American interest in lycopene has mostly focused on prostate health—not lung health.
But overall, these new studies reinforce the common-sense recommendation to eat more fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods. (And don’t let doctors warn you away from eating fresh fruit if you have diabetes or are at risk of developing it. Fructose, the natural sugar as present in fruits, doesn’t affect metabolism the same way as processed sugars do.)
So there you have it! Just a few simple diet modifications and you can breathe easier about your lung health—even if you’re a smoker or ex-smoker.
My 4-step plan for healthier lungs
The latest research shows that these four simple steps can effectively prevent and treat lung cancer and lung diseases such as asthma and COPD (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis):
- Eat seven to eight servings of fresh fruits and vegetables per day—especially carotenoid-rich produce such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, leafy green vegetables, squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, and tangerines.
- Incorporate organic, fresh tomatoes into your weekly meal plans, year-round.
- If you’re a smoker or former smoker, make sure to ask your doctor to annually order a low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening. It’s an excellent way to detect lung cancer at the earliest stages possible, when it’s still curable.
- Supplement daily with:
- Vitamin C—250 mg, twice daily
- Vitamin E—200 mg
- Lycopene—10 to 12 mg (avoid synthetic beta-carotene, which has been linked to lung cancer.)
3“Dietary antioxidants and 10-year lung function decline in adults from the ECRHS survey.” European Respiratory Journal, December 26, 2017; 50: 1602286.
4“Inverse Association between Dietary Intake of Selected Carotenoids and Vitamin C and Risk of Lung Cancer.” Frontiers in Oncology, 2017; 7: 23.
5“Association of Dietary Vitamin E Intake With Risk of Lung Cancer: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis.” Asia Pacific J Clin Nutrition 26 (2), 271-277, 2017.