A Healthy Diet Promotes Healthy Lungs
Armed with lightning metabolisms, some teenagers might consider themselves impervious to the consequences of poor eating habits. A new asthma study, however, drives home the importance of maintaining a diet replete in key vitamins and nutrients. According to research published today in the journal Chest, deficiencies of vitamins C and E, flavonoids, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids can have harmful impacts on respiratory health.
The study found that the more teens skimp on eating fruit, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods, the more likely they are to report breathing problems such as coughing, wheezing, episodes of bronchitis, and even chronic asthma. The study involved more than 2,000 high school seniors from across the United States and Canada. The participants took a test measuring their lung function and gave detailed accounts of their eating habits and any respiratory problems they experienced.
According to government stats, about 20 percent of Americans under the age of 18 have chronic asthma, making it the one of the most prevalent diseases among children and adolescents. A sometimes-debilitating condition in which lung tissue periodically becomes inflamed, asthma cannot be cured. And although effective treatments such as inhalers are readily available, the disease can lead to hospitalization and occasionally has fatal complications.
The condition's causes are complex and in some cases genetic, notes Jane Burns, the study's lead author and a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Nevertheless, she says, key nutrients—like the antioxidants found in fruits and omega-3 fats—may prove instrumental for maintaining lung health. Antioxidants such as vitamins C and E may "protect the lung from stress," she says, and "omega-3 tends to reduce inflammation."
Poor nutrition is just one of the environmental factors that could aggravate a teen's risk for developing asthma, Burns says. Smoking, not surprisingly, is another. In the study, smoking caused a teen's risk of developing respiratory problems to quadruple. And teens with both poor nutrition and a cigarette habit had seven times the asthma risk that their peers faced. Where respiratory health is concerned, Burns surmises, a bad diet may "enhance the effect of smoking in a negative way."