Cured meat consumption may aggravate COPD

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
COPD, cured meats, healthy diet, lung damage, hospital admission

BARCELONA, SPAIN - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most common lung diseases. Most cases are a result of smoking. Individuals with COPD experience shortness of breath, fatigue, and a cough with mucus secretions. A new study by Spanish researchers has reported that the consumption of preserved meats increases the risk of hospital readmissions for patients suffering from COPD. The study was published March 9 in the European Respiratory Journal.

The study authors noted that recent studies have reported that a diet that is high in cured meat increases the risk of developing COPD development. To further evaluate the association, they conducted a study known as the Phenotype and Course of COPD Project (PAC-COPD), which was designed to assess the relationship between dietary intake of cured meat and risk for COPD readmission to the hospital.

The researchers recruited 274 COPD patients between January 2004 and March 2006 from nine hospitals in Spain during their first COPD hospital admission. The patients were followed through December 31, 2007 (median follow-up: 2.6 years). The average patient age was 68 years, 93% were men, and 42% were current smokers. The diagnosis of COPD was based on the FEV1/FVC ratio, also known as the Tiffeneau index, which is a calculated ratio that represents the proportion of the forced vital capacity (lung air volume) exhaled in the first second. They also conducted other studies related to lung function including spirometry, arterial oxygen and carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide diffusing capacity, and serum C-reactive protein. The measurements were made after the patients used a bronchodilator to increase lung flow.

To ascertain cured meat consumption, the subjects filled out a food frequency questionnaire at the time of enrollment, which queried them about dietary habits during the preceding two years. Cured meat consumption was defined as the total daily consumption (g/day) of cooked ham, Spanish cured ham, hot dogs, or sausage. The researchers also obtained information regarding lifestyle, respiratory symptoms, and medications. To evaluate nutritional status, they also assessed body mass index (BMI) and fat-free mass index to evaluate participants' nutritional status.


The average FEV1/FVC ratio was 53% and the average cured meat intake was 23 g/day (equivalent to approximately 1 slice of ham per day). Only 5% of the patients had mild COPD, 52% had moderate COPD, 37% had severe COPD, and 6% suffered from very severe COPD. The researchers found that the average cured meat intake was similar between all patient groups (mild to very severe). In addition, they reported that a higher daily cured meat intake was positively related to younger age, current employment, current smoking, higher levels of regular physical activity, and lower BMI.

The investigators found that higher cured meat consumption was associated with a two-fold increased risk for COPD readmission. In addition, the time between the first and second COPD hospital admission was greater in patients with low cured meat intake. In conclusion, they wrote: "This study adds new evidence suggesting that in addition to a possible increase in risk of COPD associated with cured meats, these foods may also increase risk of exacerbations, thus supporting the need of considering specific dietary advice to COPD patients.”

As previously mentioned, smoking is the leading cause of COPD. The more an individual smokes the more likely that he or she will develop COPD; however, some people smoke for years and never get COPD. In rare cases, nonsmokers who lack a protein called alpha-1 antitrypsin can develop emphysema. Other risk factors for COPD are: exposure to certain gases or fumes in the workplace; exposure to heavy amounts of secondhand smoke and pollution; and frequent use of cooking gas without proper ventilation.

Take Home Message: This study notes that the combination of two harmful substances, tobacco and cured meat, aggravates COPD. In addition, both smoking and cured meats increase the risk of cancer. The study adds further evidence regarding the deleterious effects of smoking and the impact of preserved meats. Smoking has absolutely no beneficial effects and cured meats can be excluded from one’s diet without impacting one’s lifestyle.

Reference: European Respiratory Journal