People with chronic lung conditions tend to be underweight or malnourished, but dietary counseling can help them gain some weight and function better, new research shows.

For their study, Dr. C. Elizabeth Weekes, from St. Thomas' Hospital, London, and colleagues recruited 59 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, an umbrella term for lung conditions such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

The participants were assigned on a random basis to receive dietary counseling and advice on food fortification or to receive a dietary advice leaflet only. The counseling was ongoing for six months, and the subjects were followed for another six months.

Daily intake of calories and protein was significantly greater in the intervention group than in the comparison group, Weekes' team reports in the medical journal Thorax.

The subjects who were counseled about nutrition gained about 2 kilograms on average in the first 6 months and maintained that gain, while the other group steadily lost about 3 kilograms over the 12 month study.

Furthermore, functional abilities and symptoms such as breathlessness improved among the counseled patients, and many of the beneficial changes persisted during the follow-up period.

By contrast, the dietary intervention appeared to have no impact on respiratory function or on muscle strength, the researchers note.

They call for further studies to identify which COPD patients are mostly likely to benefit from dietary counseling and advice on food fortification.