Could an apple a day actually keep the doctor away? Scientists find a germ of truth in proverb

(Vanessa Hrvatin/ National Post) — There may be some truth at the heart of the ancient Welsh proverb that says “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” — and eating fruit might be especially good for your lungs.

A study published Thursday in the European Respiratory Journal looked at 680 people’s food consumption over 10 years, finding those who ate at least three portions of fruit every day experienced a slower decline in lung function. The study is one of the longest ever conducted analyzing the impact of fruits and vegetables on human health, and unlike previous studies, where many participants had pre-existing conditions, the research was based on a sample representative of the general population.

Study co-author Dr. Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, a member of the medical faculty at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said that lung function starts to decline naturally at around age 30. “This happens for essentially everyone, it doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympic athlete or just the average person,” she said. “So we’re trying to identify ways we can eat in order to help our lung function decline at the slowest rate possible.”

The study assessed lung function using two standard measurements: one tested how much air someone could expel in one second and the other measured how much air someone could inhale in six seconds. As we age these numbers drop, meaning we inhale and exhale less air per second. But for people who ate a hearty diet of fruits and vegetables, these numbers dropped at a much slower rate over 10 years, compared to those who didn’t.

The study also found one particular new contender in the fight to keep lungs healthy: tomatoes. Researchers discovered that people who ate a lot of tomatoes had overall better lung health. Garcia-Larsen says the tomato has never been singled out before and it’s still unclear why this vegetable might have such a positive effect on the lungs. (…)

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