As we are now in the year 2015, it should come as no surprise that smoking cigarettes causes irreparable damage to our bodies. It makes no difference whether it is firsthand or secondhand smoke – you will experience the effects of smoking either way. One of the most common results of smoking is chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which refers to a very specific group of conditions that result in breathing problems and airway obstructions.
The American Lung Association estimates that COPD affected 12.7 million adults in 2011 alone. If that wasn’t bad enough, it is currently the third leading cause of death in the United States.
But after the results of a new study were released, researchers are hopeful that this will no longer be the case.
The Power of a Healthy Diet
For years, research has proven that the primary cause of COPD is smoking as it causes anywhere between 80 and 90 percent of cases in the United States. Air pollution, secondhand smoke and genetic factors are believed to make up the other 10 to 20 percent of cases. However, very little research has been conducted to determine how other factors, such as an unhealthy diet, can also contribute to that risk.
As it turns out, a healthy diet can go a long way in reducing your risk of COPD.
The American and French study authors observed how one’s diet affects his/her risk of COPD. The immense study involved 73,228 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study (1984-2000) and 47,026 men who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (1986-1998).
When each study began, participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and a health questionnaire to gain information on participants’ COPD risk factors, including their smoking habits, physical activity, weight and medical history. Any medical conditions that were diagnosed after the studies began were accounted for in follow-up questionnaires, which were completed every two years after the study’s start date.
The Alternate Healthy Eating Index 2010, or AHEI-2010, was used to determine participants’ diet quality. A higher AHEI-2010 score means the participant consumes a healthy diet verses a lower score representing an unhealthy diet. In the participants with the lowest AHEI-2010 scores, 167 new COPD cases in the male participants were diagnosed and 723 new cases in the female participants.
With these results, the study authors concluded that a healthy diet reduces COPD risk by a third. When reading this you may be skeptical, but this study did take into account the other possible causes of an increased COPD risk, including the participants’ age, ethnicity, smoking habits and their body mass indexes.
Reducing Your COPD Risk
Although its benefits should not be disregarded, a healthy diet is not the only modifiable factor that can help reduce your COPD risk. Here are some other important steps you can take:
- Don’t smoke, and distance yourself from those who do to avoid the effects of secondhand smoke.
- Something as simple as washing your hands frequently can protect you from flu and cold viruses. This can reduce your COPD risk because if you are frequently sick, your lung function declines faster.
- Exercise often and maintain a healthy body weight. It may be surprising, but being too thin can be just as harmful as being overweight.
- Get flu and pneumonia shots annually to prevent your symptoms from becoming worse and to avoid hospitalization.
If you follow these steps but notice any of the following COPD symptoms, seek medical attention immediately:
- Shortness of breath during simple daily activities
- Chronic coughing
- Recurring respiratory infections
- Lips or fingernails turning a shade of blue
- Excessive mucus production