November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Awareness month, and while you’re probably aware of COPD drugs, which are endlessly advertised on television, you may be less aware of how nutrition may impact COPD, which is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. That’s why we’re so excited about new research indicating broccoli’s ability to fight COPD. Affecting 24 million Americans, COPD encompasses bronchitis and emphysema and manifests as a thickening of the lung walls, making it difficult to breathe. Normally, your lungs have their own enzymes which clear out toxins, but smoke — from cigarettes, marijuana or even incense — disables this defense system. The result: The toxins enter your defenseless lungs, ultimately killing healthy cells.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that when cigarette smoke inactivated the enzymes in lung tissue, 30% of the cells self-destructed.But they discovered that compounds in broccoli re-activate your lung’s defense systems, reducing cell death to a mere 5%. If broccoli has such a dramatic effect against deadly cigarette smoke, imagine how much smoke-free lungs would be able to benefit!Broccoli’s possible protective powers extend far beyond your lungs. Cruciferous compounds can help protect diabetics’ blood vessels from the kind of damage that quadruples their risk of heart disease. Eating just a half cup of broccoli a week could halve prostate cancer risk, indicated in one study. Broccoli may help the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from unneeded substances in the blood.

Bonus: Bananas may also help you breathe easier.One study found that kids who ate a banana a day were 34% less likely to develop asthma.
Published November 1, 2009