Eating a diet filled with fruits and vegetables will help keep your lungs healthy. This type of diet may lower your risk for lung cancer, one of the types of cancer with a relatively low survival rate. Evidence is still conflicting on whether particular vitamins help lower your risk for lung cancer or other lung-related health problems, but some research points to potential beneficial effects from vitamins A, B-6, C, D and E.
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Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A
You need vitamin A, or its precursor, beta-carotene, to maintain your lungs and keep them functioning normally. Taking high-dose supplements of either beta-carotene or vitamin A doesn't appear to help lower the risk of lung cancer, however, and in some studies seems to slightly increase this risk, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. You're better off eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, including those that contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids, such as spinach, sweet potato, carrots, red peppers, mango, cantaloupe, apricots and broccoli, which have been found to potentially decrease lung cancer risk.
Vitamin B-6 may help keep your DNA from becoming damaged and mutating, thus lowering your risk for lung cancer. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June 2010 backs this up, finding that people with higher blood levels of vitamin B-6 and the amino acid methionine seem to have a lower risk of lung cancer. Fish, chickpeas, chicken, potatoes, turkey, bananas, ground beef, winter squash and fortified breakfast cereals are good food sources of vitamin B-6.
A review article published in Scientific Reports in August 2014 found that higher intakes of vitamin C may help limit your risk of lung cancer. The authors, however, recommended further research to verify this effect. Citrus fruits, bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, strawberries, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kiwifruit and brussels sprouts are all good foods to eat to increase your vitamin C intake.
Having low blood levels of vitamin D may be associated with an increased risk for respiratory infections, cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and interstitial lung disease, according to a review article published in Advances in Nutrition in May 2011. Higher vitamin D levels may be associated with improved lung function. Fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, provide vitamin D, and eggs, mushrooms and fortified foods can also help you get enough of this essential vitamin.
Research on vitamin E and lung health is particularly conflicting, with some evidence pointing to a beneficial effect and other evidence suggesting a negative effect. A study published in Respiratory Research in 2014 may have an explanation for this, however -- it found that different types of vitamin E have different effects. Getting your vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol, which is found in sunflower and olive oils, may improve lung function, while consuming gamma-tocopherol, found in canola, soybean and corn oils, may worsen your lung function.
- Respiratory Research: The Vitamin E Isoforms α-tocopherol and γ-tocopherol Have Opposite Associations With Spirometric Parameters: The CARDIA Study
- The New York Times: Vitamin E May Harm, or Help, Your Lungs
- Advances in Nutrition: Vitamin D and Chronic Lung Disease: A Review of Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Studies
- The Globe and Mail: Protect Your Lungs With More Vitamin B
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin A
- Journal of the American Medical Association: Serum B Vitamin Levels and Risk of Lung Cancer
- Scientific Reports: Association Between Vitamin C Intake and Lung Cancer: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis