Plant-based Diet Decreases Risk of Developing Emphysema

April 25, 2024

New study shows nutritionally rich diet reduced incidence of chronic lung disease

MIAMI (April 25, 2024) - People with a history of smoking who follow a nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet have a reduced risk of developing radiographic emphysema later in life, regardless of smoking history, according to a new study. The study is published in the March 2024 issue of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases: Journal of the COPD Foundation, a peer-reviewed, open access journal.

Emphysema is caused by irreversible damage to the air sacs in the lungs, which then limits the amount of oxygen transferred from the air to the blood and creates a feeling of shortness of breath. There are currently limited prevention strategies for those at high risk of developing emphysema.

This new study examined whether a nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet in young adult smokers impacted the risk of developing emphysema later in life. A nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet is characterized as a diet with higher amounts of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and lower amounts of refined grains and red and processed meats.

"Emerging data show an association between an individual's dietary choices and lung health, including reducing wheezing in children and lowering asthma occurrence in children and adults," said Mariah K. Jackson, PhD, MMN, a registered dietitian nutritionist, assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and lead author of the study. "Our analysis of CARDIA study data supports the idea that a nutritionally rich, plant-centered diet may reduce the risk of developing radiographic emphysema, independent of smoking history."

The study examined 1,706 participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Lung Prospective Cohort study who reported current or former smoking by year 20 of the study and had their diet history assessed using A Priori Diet Quality Scores. CARDIA participants were between 18 and 30 years old at enrollment and followed for 30 years.

Study results showed that participants who followed a nutritionally rich, plant-based diet had a 56% lower risk of developing emphysema, compared to those with the lowest adherence to the diet.

"Identifying these modifiable factors, such as diet, is vital for helping reduce the risk of developing chronic lung disease in those with a history of smoking," Dr. Jackson said. "We know long-term smoking cessation adherence can be challenging, requiring complementary treatments, like a nutrient-rich plant-centered diet, to help preserve lung health. More research is needed on when dietary choices have the most potential to impact lung health, which can then inform public health guidelines and dietary recommendations, especially in children and young adults."

To access current and past issues of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases: Journal of the COPD Foundation, visit


About the COPD Foundation
The COPD Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help millions of people live longer and healthier lives by advancing research, advocacy, and awareness to stop COPD, bronchiectasis, and NTM lung disease. The Foundation does this through scientific research, education, advocacy, and awareness to prevent disease, slow progression, and find a cure. For more information, visit, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Brittany Irish