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A study from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, examined the diet and lung function of 7,352 people with an average age of 64.5 years.

Using data compiled as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the study authors found a statistical association between people who ate 14 or more servings monthly of cured meats

and the incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This held true even after the researchers factored in such variables as age, smoking, and the amount of fruits and vegetables in the subjects’ diets.

The study found that people who eat 14 or more servings of cured meat per month have about an 80 percent increased odds of COPD versus people who don’t eat cured meat at all. And, the more cured meats a person eats a month, on average, the higher the risk of COPD, the study said.

The findings were published in the April issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

According to the American Lung Association, COPD is an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. The single greatest risk factor for the disease is smoking.

Yet, the association between COPD and cured meats doesn’t come entirely out of left field. Cured meats are rich in nitrites, which have, in animal studies, been linked to lung damage. No epidemiologic study had ever been done to test the possible association between cured meats and lung disease in humans, however, Jiang said.

“There is a plausible background to it,” said Dr. Neil Schachter, professor of pulmonary medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. “They (the study authors) are not the first to say that diet may impact lung disease, and certainly there have been many hypotheses about chemicals and oxidative species that may enhance the development of chronic lung disease.”

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