Plant-Powered Protection Against Emphysema - EMJ

Plant-Powered Protection Against Emphysema

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NEW research explored the link between dietary choices and the development of emphysema, to address prevention strategies for chronic lung disease. The study, led by Mariah Jackson, Division of Medical Nutrition Education, University of Nebraska Medical Centre, Nebraska, USA, aimed to determine whether a nutrient-rich plant-centred diet could lower the chances of developing emphysema later in life, even among young individuals with a smoking history.

In this study, participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Lung Prospective Cohort Study, aged 18–30 at enrolment, were tracked for 30 years. The study focused on 1,706 adults who reported current or past smoking by 20 years of age. To gauge the dietary habits of the participants, repeated assessments of diet history were used to calculate A Priori Diet Quality Scores (APDQS), which were then grouped into quintiles. Higher quintiles indicated greater consumption of nutritionally dense, plant-centric foods. At year 25, emphysema was evaluated via CT scans for a subset of participants (n=1,351). The team also selected key variables to account for potential confounding factors.

Emphysema was found in 13.0% of the study group, whose average age was 50.4 years. Among those with the highest APDQS quintile (reflecting greater intake of nutritionally rich foods), only 4.5% had emphysema, contrasting starkly with the 25.4% prevalence among those in the lowest quintile. Even after adjusting for various factors, including smoking, there was a clear inverse relationship between adhering to a plant-centric diet and the likelihood of developing emphysema. Specifically, individuals in the highest quintile had significantly lower odds of emphysema compared to those in the lowest quintile (odds ratio: 0.44; 95% confidence interval: 0.19–0.99, ptrend=0.008).

This study concluded that consistently following a diet abundant in nutrients from plant-based sources was linked to a reduced likelihood of developing emphysema during middle adulthood. This suggests the need for more thorough investigation into the role of diet as a preventive measure for emphysema, particularly in populations at high risk due to smoking.


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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