Posted on January 21 2018
Chapter Two in Michael Greger’s book, “How Not To Die” is focused on lung diseases (lung cancer, COPD and asthma) which account for almost 300,000 deaths per year. This is a somewhat longer blog, but it covers these three diseases. So check out the one or ones that are of most concern to you.
Of course, the major cause of lung disease is smoking (160,000 deaths from lung cancer per year), so the simplest and most powerful way to improve your lung health is to stop smoking if you are a smoker. But, you can get lung cancer even if you have never smoked (about 25% of all lung cancer cases), from other activities that cause us to breath in carcinogenic elements, like fumes from frying. Basically, when animal or vegetable oils and fats are heated to frying temperature, toxic volatile chemicals are released which can cause genetic mutations in our cells. And, additional chemicals are released from what is being fried, like heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from meat, which is one of the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. A study of women in China found that smokers who stir-fried meat every day had nearly three times the rate of lung cancer than women smokers who stir-fried foods other than meat. Bacon appears to be among the worst meats to fry because it gives of nitrosamines. A study at the University of California at Davis showed that the fumes from bacon caused four times the DNA mutations than fumes from beef patties.
It turns out that broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage and cauliflower) can help reduce the incidence of cellular DNA mutations from smoking or other causes and make your cells more resilient at the subcellular level. In a study of long-term smokers, researchers asked them to consume just one broccoli stalk per day. Compared to broccoli-avoiding smokers, the broccoli eating smokers had 41% fewer DNA mutations in their bloodstream in just ten days. Broccoli appears to also help suppress the metastatic spread of cancer cells. In a test tube study, when cruciferous-vegetable compounds were dripped onto a petri dish with cancer cells in it, the cancer cells stopped spreading as they normally do.
And the spice turmeric also appears to have substantial benefits, largely due to the “chemopreventive” compound in turmeric called curcumin (which gives turmeric its bright-yellow color). When smokers were given abut a teaspoon of turmeric per day, their DNA mutation rate dropped by up to 38%.
An extremely interesting aspect of turmeric and curcumin is its ability to reprogram cancer cells to self-destruct. All cells have a built-in self-destruct mechanism so that old cells can die off to allow new cells to take their place. Our body is constantly rebuilding itself. However, one of the reasons why cancer is so dangerous is that cancer cells somehow are able to disable this self-destruct mechanism, so they continue to thrive and divide, eventually forming tumors and spreading throughout the body.
Curcumin seems to have the ability to reprogram the self-destruct mechanism back into cancer cells by reactivating the cancer cells “death receptors”. It also appears to kill cancer cells directly by activating “execution enzymes” called caspases inside cancer cells that destroy them by chopping up their proteins. And, since curcumin possesses several different mechanisms to kill cancer cells, the likelihood of cancer cells developing resistance to the effects of curcumin over time are greatly reduced. Curcumin has been shown to be effective against a variety of cancers, like breast, brain, blood, colon, kidney, liver, lung, and skin cancers. While none of these effects have been proven in double-blind human clinical trials, and many arise from test tube studies, it may be a good idea to incorporate more turmeric into your recipes.
COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) is another lung disease which affects more than 24 million Americans. Smoking is the leading cause of COPD, so stopping smoking is the best cure. But other factors, like prolonged exposure to air pollution, can also cause it.
There is no cure for CPOD, but data going back more than 50 years show that a high intake of fruits and vegetables is positively associated with good lung function. Just one extra serving of fruit every day may translate into a 24% reduction in your risk of dying from COPD. Conversely, a twin pair of studies from Columbia and Harvard found that consumption of cured meat (like bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausage, etc.) may increase your risk of COPD, probably because of the nitrites in the meat, which may mimic the lung-damaging properties of nitrites in cigarette smoke.
Can fruits and vegetables help someone with COPD? In a landmark study published in 2010, more than one hundred COPD patients were randomized into two groups. Half were instructed to boost their fruit and vegetable consumption and half were told to eat their normal diets. The fruit and vegetable group halted the progression of their disease, and in some cases even improved their lung function, while lung function continued to deteriorate for the group eating their normal diets. The researchers concluded that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the fruits and vegetables, along with a possible reduction in their consumption of meat, was the cause of the improvement.
Asthma most often develops in childhood, so smoking is not the major cause of this disease, but it can start at any age. Over 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. One interesting fact is that the rates of asthma suffering vary dramatically in different cultures around the world, ranging from 1% in parts of India to as much as 45% elsewhere. It turns out that diet is a major factor in determining the rate of asthma. In cultures where less meat and other animal products (like cow milk) are eaten, asthma rates are lower. In a study of 100,000 people in India, those who ate meat, even occasionally, had significantly higher rates of asthma than those who excluded meat and eggs from their diet. Removing eggs and dairy from the diet has been shown to improve asthmatic children’s lung function in as few as 8 weeks.
Another study done in Australia restricted the diet of asthma sufferers by limiting consumption of fruits and vegetables to no more than three servings per day. Within two weeks, asthma symptoms grew significantly worse. When fruit and vegetable consumption was increased to seven servings per day, the subjects’ exacerbation rate was cut in half.
The reason for these effects is believed to be due to the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables, which strengthens and counteracts the oxidation of the coating of fluid that forms the interface between the respiratory-tract lining and the outside air which is your body’s first line of defense against free radicals that contribute to asthmatic airway hypersensitivity, contraction, and mucus production.
Interestingly, an antioxidant pill does not seem to produce the same benefits. For example, a Harvard nurses study of women who obtained a high level of vitamin E from nuts appeared to have half the risk of asthma as those who didn’t, but those who took a vitamin E supplement saw no benefit at all.
One last study result is instructive. Researchers in Sweden tested a completely plant-based diet on a group of 35 severe asthmatics. Of the 24 patients who stuck with the plant-based diet, 70% improved after four months, and 90% improved after one year. All but two of the patients were able to drop their dose of asthma medication or get off their steroids and other drugs altogether.
So, if isolated vitamin compounds or extracts in pill form don’t yield positive results, but whole food fruits and vegetables do, then the smart thing would be to increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. And you may also want to ramp up your use of turmeric.
If seven servings of fruits and vegetables (like in the Australian study) seems like a hard goal to achieve, then I want to recommend that you consider taking Juice Plus capsules, which are WHOLE FOOD nutrition in a capsule (not an isolated compound or extract). A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition (2013) showed that Juice Plus helps improve pulmonary lung functions such as forced expiratory flow and diffusion capacity among smokers. And several studies have shown that the antioxidants from the fruits and vegetables in Juice Plus can help to maintain healthy DNA and reduce DNA damage. So, if eating seven serving of fruits and vegetables every day is difficult for you, the most convenient alternative might be Juice Plus capsules, available at Objects of Desire Artful Living, because we believe that artful living is healthy living.