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Health News Archive 20 - Lungs
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Resveratrol Protects Against Lung Cancer

Red wine consumption, which has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and the common cold, may also protect against lung cancer, a 2004 study published in the journal Thorax indicates.

The study authors examined the effects of drinking both red and white wine on lung cancer. They studied the effects of wine drinking in 132 people with lung cancer and 187 people who were in the hospital for non-tobacco related minor surgery in the northwestern Santiago de Compostela district of Spain. Consumption of red wine was associated with a slight but statistically significant reduction in lung cancer development.

The researchers theorized that red wine's protective effects were either due to resveratrol or the tannins contained in the wine. Tannins are antioxidants that control free radicals. Resveratrol, in past studies, has inhibited cancerous tumor growth.  

The researchers emphasized that moderate red wine consumption is encouraged, while drinking excessive amounts of alcohol—including red wine—may do more harm than good.

According to the study authors, "From a public health standpoint, however, we feel that these results should be approached with caution as it would be extremely risky—and even dangerous—for recommendations to be drawn up endorsing a high consumption of red wine for the prevention of lung cancer in the light of the well known association between alcohol consumption and increased mortality. However, our results could be used to identify the components of red wine associated with this possible protective effect and to recommend the consumption of these to smokers."


Ruano-Ravina A, Figueiras A, Barros-Dios JM. Type of Wine and Risk of Lung Cancer: a Case-Control Study in Spain. Thorax. 2004;59:981-985.

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Vitamin A Reduces Emphysema in Smokers

A Kansas State University researcher says he has accidentally discovered a link between vitamin A and emphysema in smokers.

University researcher Dr. Richard Baybutt's previous studies found that rats fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema, a lung disease found primarily in smokers.  He than exposed rats to cigarette smoke and found the rats became vitamin A deficient. He subsequently determined benzopyrene, a common carcinogen found in cigarettes, is the link to the deficiency.

"When the lung content of vitamin A was low, the score of emphysema was high," he said. "So, the hypothesis is that smokers develop emphysema because of a vitamin A deficiency." Dr. Baybutt then began feeding the rats exposed to cigarette smoke a diet with higher levels of vitamin A and the incidents of emphysema were effectively reduced.

"There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet."

Source:  Journal of Nutrition, July, 2004

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Resveratrol from Red Wine Good for Your Lungs

Red wine, already thought to be good for your heart, may be good for your lungs too, doctors say. But scientists say there is probably not enough resveratrol in a wine glass for chronic sufferers to drink their way to good health.

Resveratrol, a polyphenol antioxidant compound found naturally in red wine could help fight chronic bronchitis and emphysema, a study published in the journal Thorax in November 2003 has reported. The study found that resveratrol, which is found in the skin of red grapes, could reduce the amount of harmful chemicals in the lungs that cause the diseases. The study was conducted by researchers from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London. 

The lung illnesses, known together as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kill an estimated 2.9 million people a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Smokers are 10 times as likely as non-smokers to die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"It seems that drinking red wine in moderation as part of a healthy, balanced diet can reduce lung inflammation," Dr. John Harvey, chairman of the Communications Committee of the British Thoracic Society, said.

Resveratrol is already thought to be one of the reasons why people in wine-drinking countries, such as France, have low rates of heart disease, Dr. Louise Donnelly, one of the report's authors said. Her team wanted to test whether those benefits could extend to lung disease as well. The research was published in the international medical journal Thorax.

In the study, lung fluid samples were taken from 15 smokers and 15 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. When resveratrol was added to the samples, it cut production of interleukin 8, a chemical that causes inflammation of the lungs. Production of interleukin 8 was reduced by 94 percent in smokers and by 88 percent in COPD patients.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is now commonly treated with steroids, but resveratrol might prove more effective, Donnelly said. It would not reverse the damage that has occurred to the lungs, but could help stop it from getting any worse, she said.

SOURCE: Thorax, November 2003.

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Fish Oil Reduces Asthma in Athletes

Athletes who experience shortness of breath and other asthma-like symptoms after exercise may benefit from fish oil capsules, researchers report in the November 2003 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.  In a small study, elite athletes who normally experienced asthma-like symptoms after exercising had less severe symptoms after adding fish oil capsules to their diet.

"If you experience asthma-like symptoms after exercise, such as breathlessness and a tight chest, then taking fish oil supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids may help you breathe better during and after exercise," said Dr. Timothy D. Mickleborough of Indiana University in Bloomington.

For many people with asthma, exercise can trigger wheezing, chest tightness, cough and breathlessness, but these symptoms may also occur in people who do not have asthma. In fact, research suggests that elite athletes are more likely to experience asthma-like symptoms after exercise than less accomplished athletes and the general population. Why this is the case is uncertain, but prolonged exercise may increase exposure to allergens and substances that can irritate the airways as well as increase inhalation of cold, dry air.

Because substances called omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that are found in fish oils can produce anti-inflammatory effects, there has been interest in seeing whether PUFAs may improve asthma symptoms.

So far, the evidence on the effect of PUFAs in people with asthma is mixed and the one study that looked at the effect of fish oil supplements on asthma did not show any benefits. Now, in a study that tested the effect of fish oil supplements in athletes with exercise-induced asthma-like symptoms, Mickleborough and his colleagues report that fish oils seem to reduce the severity of symptoms.

The study included 20 elite athletes, half of whom experienced asthma-like symptoms after exercise but who did not have asthma. For three weeks, participants were randomly assigned to take fish oil capsules or placebo capsules that contained olive oil. After a two-week washout period, volunteers switched groups. Before exercise, there were no significant differences in lung function between the fish oil and placebo groups,

But the decline in lung function that normally occurred after exercise was reduced by almost 80 percent in athletes on the fish oil diet. These athletes also needed less asthma medication when taking fish oil supplements. Fish oil supplements did not seem to affect lung function at all in athletes who did not usually experience symptoms after exercise. The authors of a related editorial caution that the study was small and does not mean that fish oil supplements will help people with asthma.

SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, November 15, 2003.

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Lutein and Zeaxanthin of Substantial Benefit To Lungs

A dietary study by University at Buffalo (UB) nutrition researchers has shown that Lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidant vitamins in the carotenoid family, have a significant positive effect on lung health. Study participants who ate half the average amount of foods containing lutein and zeaxanthin showed a reduction in lung function equivalent to one to 2 years of aging, results showed. "This information may be especially important for smokers, who have a heavy free-radical burden." Dr. Schunemann, the lead researcher said. 

The study, published in the March 1, 2002, issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that dietary carotenoids other than beta-carotene, the most frequently investigated nutrient in that family, are associated positively with lung function. Carotenoids are antioxidant vitamins found primarily in orange, red, green and yellow vegetables and fruits. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens are good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.

The researchers also found a strong association between dietary intake of foods containing the antioxidant vitamins C and E and healthy lung function, results that supported their previous research. In a study published in May 2001, they reported that high blood levels of vitamins C and E and the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin were associated with better pulmonary function in a general population.

"The importance of this study is that it strengthens the hypothesis that carotenoids are antioxidant vitamins that play a significant role in maintaining respiratory function, and that beta-carotene may not be the 'one' important carotenoid," said Holger Schunemann, MD, PhD, University of Buffalo assistant professor of medicine and lead author on the study. "Impaired lung function is associated with an increased risk of dying, so it is important to determine the factors that could influence lung function," he said.

This study was based on dietary records and interviews obtained from 1616 randomly selected residents of western New York ages 35-79 who were free of respiratory disease. All participants performed standard lung-function tests, which measured the volume of air they could expel in one breath - forced vital capacity (FVC) - and the volume forcibly expelled in one second (FEV1).

Of the several carotenoids prevalent in the diets of participants, lutein and zeaxanthin showed the strongest association with pulmonary function, Schunemann said.

"We also found a positive association between pulmonary function and dietary intake of vitamins C and E, but when we considered these antioxidant vitamins simultaneously, only vitamin E correlated significantly with FEV1 and only lutein and zeaxanthin with FEV." Taking vitamin C and E supplements didn't change these results significantly.

"Further studies are needed to confirm these results," he said, "and longitudinal studies could help to clarify whether this association is related to lung development in childhood and adolescence, or whether it's the result of an accumulation of protective effects against oxidative damage throughout life."

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