Research published in Epidemiologic Reviews (2001; 23(2):268-87) indicates that antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin E and vitamin C may protect against the development of lung disease. Oxidation from free radicals (chemicals that have an electron that reacts easily) can be liked to damage done by chemical “bullets”. That spare electron is analogous to a bullet. Antioxidant nutrients act like chemical bullet-proof vests that protect the cell from oxidation. Antioxidants could also play a protective role in gene-environment interactions in complex lung diseases like childhood asthma.
The authors did a review of the medical literature and found studies that indicated vitamin C supplementation improved lung function of COPD patients (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—emphysema and bronchitis). Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables may improve asthma symptoms in children. The researchers point out that fruits and vegetables contain many antioxidant components. Vitamin C is only one of those components, so it is hard to identify a single constituent that is most beneficial. While the researchers point out the protective effects of antioxidants on short-term lung function, they stop short of stating that long-term supplementation can slow the progression of lung diseases. They do, however, recommend antioxidant supplementation to patients who have high levels of oxidative stress (smokers, people who live where there is a lot of air pollution, etc.).