Plant-Based Diet and Emphysema Risk in Smokers - EMJ

Plant-Based Diet Significantly Reduces Emphysema Risk in Young Smokers

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A RECENT study highlights the potential of a plant-based diet to reduce the risk of emphysema in young adults with a history of smoking.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death worldwide. A key manifestation of COPD is emphysema which involved irreversible lung damage and significantly impacts long-term respiratory health, even in the absence of COPD diagnosis. Smoking remains as the primary risk factor for emphysema. However, smoking cessation alone often does not mitigate respiratory damage, necessitating additional preventative measures.

A recent study led by researchers from Mass General Brigham and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, suggests that a nutritionally rich, plant-based diet could play a vital role in reducing the risk of emphysema among young adults who have a history of smoking. The study analysed data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, focusing on the impact of diet on lung health over 30 years.  The CARDIA study tracked the dietary habits and outcomes of over 5,000 adults aged between 18-30 years old for a period of three decades. Using the A Priori Diet Quality Scores (APDQS) to assess diet quality.

Results showed that adherence to a plant-based diet, that is rich in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimising processed meats and refined grains, was strongly associated with a reduced risk of developing emphysema. Participants with the highest APDQS had a 56% lower risk of developing emphysema compared to those with the lowest scores. While the incidence of emphysema was significantly less common participants with the highest diet scores, with only 4.5% showing signs of emphysema on CT scans, compared to 25.4% in the lowest diet score group. Improved outcomes associated with the plant-based diet were observed even after accounting for smoking history, indicating that the diet independently contributes to lung health.

The results of the study underscore the importance of diet in emphysema prevention, particularly in high-risk populations. The study findings suggest that promoting plant-based diets could positively impact lung health and reduce chronic respiratory disease burdens.


Jackson MK et al. A plant-centered diet is inversely associated with radiographic emphysema: findings from the CARDIA Lung Study. Chronic Obstr Pulm Dis. 2024;11(2): 164-73.



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