A review of the Hispanic paradox: time to spill the beans?Eur Respir Rev 2014; 23(134):439-49ER
Past epidemiological observations and recent molecular studies suggest that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer are closely related diseases, resulting from overlapping genetic susceptibility and exposure to aero-pollutants, primarily cigarette smoke. Statistics from the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society reveal that mortality from COPD and lung cancer are lowest in Hispanic subjects and generally highest in African American subjects, with mortality in non-Hispanic white subjects and Asian subjects in between. This observation, described as the “Hispanic paradox”, persists after adjusting for confounding variables, notably smoking exposure and sociodemographic factors. While differences in genetic predisposition might underlie this observation, differences in diet remain a possible explanation. Such a hypothesis is supported by the observation that a diet high in fruit and vegetables has been shown to confer a protective effect on both COPD and lung cancer. In this article, we hypothesise that a diet rich in legumes may explain, in part, the Hispanic paradox, given the traditionally high consumption of legumes (beans and lentils) by Hispanic subjects. Legumes are very high in fibre and have recently been shown to attenuate systemic inflammation significantly, which has previously been linked to susceptibility to COPD and lung cancer in large prospective studies. A similar protective effect could be attributed to the consumption of soy products (from soybeans) in Asian subjects, for whom a lower incidence of COPD and lung cancer has also been reported. This hypothesis requires confirmation in cohort studies and randomised control trials, where the effects of diet on outcomes can be carefully examined in a prospective study design.