SAN FRANCISCO -- Now add one more reason to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables: Their antioxidants seem to help protect lung function and may help prevent asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to a new Cornell University study.
The beneficial effects of consuming high levels of antioxidants are significant. They are comparable to the difference in the lung function between a nonsmoker and a long-term smoker, the researchers reported. Antioxidants are substances, such as beta carotene and selenium, that work in different ways to protect cells from biochemical damage.
The researchers presented their findings at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) meeting here today (April 18).
"Specifically, in terms of lung function as measured by how much air the lungs could expel, the difference between people with above-average levels of all the major antioxidants and those with below-average levels is about equivalent to the difference between the lung function of nonsmokers versus those who've smoked a pack a day for 10 years," said researcher Patricia Cassano, an epidemiologist in Cornell's Division of Nutritional Sciences.
However, the researchers urged caution in estimating the size of the effect from a single study and emphasized that further research is needed to better understand these associations.
The antioxidant beta carotene, a compound of carotene found in dark green, dark yellow and orange vegetables and fruits, was found to be dramatically less protective for smokers. And the heavier the smoker, the less protective the antioxidant. In fact, beta carotene offered almost no protection for heavy smokers.
The antioxidant selenium, however, which is found in meats, fish, cereals, dairy products, and Brazil and some other nuts, was shown to be more protective for smokers than nonsmokers. The antioxidants vitamin C and E were found to be equally protective for both groups. The beneficial
Contact: Susan S. Lang
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