Even smoking just one cigarette a day can still lead to early death, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Packs of Marlboro cigarettes are displayed for sale at a convenience store in Somerville, Massachusetts, on July 17, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

A new study has found that a diet rich in tomatoes and apples slowed down lung deterioration over a 10-year period in former smokers.

People who were smokers definitely damaged their lungs to some degree. Now a study led by Imperial College London has found that those who consumed a lot of tomatoes and apples had lesser damage in their lungs.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in a paper showed that lung function in aging adults tends to slow down, but those who consumed more than two tomatoes or more than three portions of fresh fruit a day had a slower decline in lung function compared to those who ate less than one tomato or less than one portion of fruit a day, respectively.

Meanwhile, researchers from Imperial College London found that processed versions of antioxidant rich fruits, like ketchup or apple pie, did not have the same effect. Only consuming the fresh fruit seemed to help slow the deterioration, especially in people who used to smoke cigarettes.

The study also found that these fruits help even current smokers reduce the damage they inflict on themselves.

The study was a part of the research by Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts (ALEC) Study and was funded by the European Commission.

The team observed the diet and lung function of more than 650 adults from three European countries: Germany, Norway and the U.K. in 2002, and then repeated lung function tests on the same group of participants 10 years later in 2012. The participants were asked to complete questionnaires assessing their diets and overall nutritional intake. They also underwent spirometry — a procedure that measures the capacity of lungs to take in oxygen — on both occasions to aid comparative study.

The spirometry test collects two standard measurements of lung function: Forced Exhaled Volume in 1 second (FEV1), which measures how much air a person can expel from their lungs in one second; and Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), the total amount of air a person can inhale in 6 seconds which is basically a test of your lung’s elasticity and ability to draw breath without difficulty.

"This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking. It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung's natural aging process even if you have never smoked," says Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of International Health and the study's lead author in a press release . "The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD."

This effect was most pronounced in the case of people who had successfully kicked the habit. Ex-smokers who ate a diet high in tomatoes and fruits had around 80 milliliter (lung air capacity) slower decline over the ten-year period. This suggests that nutrients in their diets are helping to repair damage done by smoking.

"Lung function starts to decline at around age 30 at variable speed depending on the general and specific health of individuals," said Garcia-Larsen in the release. "Our study suggests that eating more fruits on a regular basis can help attenuate the decline as people age, and might even help repair damage caused by smoking. Diet could become one way of combating rising diagnosis of COPD around the world."

Declining lung function affects every organ in the body. A reduction in oxygen levels, shortness of breath, tiredness, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart palpitation, heart attacks and lung cancer are just some of the documented effects of puffing on cigarettes.

The findings appear in the December issue of the European Respiratory Journal.