Inhale, exhale, eat your kale: How veggies can improve your lung health

Aug 17, 2023
Veggies like kale and broccoli hold the key to helping our lungs battle infections. Source: Getty

Scientists have recently achieved a breakthrough sure to make many breathe easy– veggies such as broccoli and kale have now been definitively linked to improved lung health.

According to findings by researchers from London’s Francis Crick Institute, greens from the cruciferous vegetable group (broccoli, cauliflower, kale and spinach) help our lungs battle infections by sending signals to a protein that guards crucial defence points in our body.

Though people from every age group can get respiratory infections, an infection like pneumonia can be more severe for older adults. In Australia, more than 3.3 million adults aged 65 and older have pneumonia.

When we eat leafy green vegetables, a process in our body triggers signals to a protein called Aryl Hydrocarbon Reception (AHR) which is found in the blood vessels of our lungs. AHR works to maintain a healthy lung environment and creates a protective barrier between our internal systems and the outside world.

“When you talk about the immune system, you talk about barriers that demarcate the border between the inside of areas like the gut and lungs, and the outside world,” said principal group leader of the Francis Crick Immuno Regulation Lab, Andreas Wack, PhD.

“The lung is a place that has to be protected but also has to be very permeable for some things. It’s a tightrope in a way.”

Though the AHR protein was previously found to have an impact on immune cells, this new study found that it also influences the cells in one layer of our lungs barrier. AHR helps prevent our lung barrier from weakening, reducing leaks and blood accumulation in lung spaces.

Researchers tested this by exposing mice to the flu virus, finding that those on a cruciferous heavy diet had less lung damage. These mice also showed improved defence against viral and bacterial infections.

According to infectious disease specialist John Tregogning, PhD, from the Imperial College London, “This study is important because it shows how the cells that line the lungs protect against damage following viral infection and that protection from infectious disease is not the sole reserve of the immune system.”

Just as observed in the lungs, the study also found a significant link between AHR in safeguarding against gut infections. The study further establishes the connection between the food we consume and our gut microbiome, and how what we eat does play an important role in our digestive system and overall gut health.

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