Larry King was the ultimate survivor.
But he could not overcome COVID-19.
He was moved to intensive care on New Year’s Eve where he was given oxygen. As with other coronavirus patients, his family was not allowed to visit him.
For a while, King seemed to get better. He was moved out of intensive care in early January and was breathing on his own. But then he took a turn for the worse.
Doctors say this is a common pattern in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. They often seem to rally before suddenly relapsing and becoming critical ill.
“They’re doing OK, and then all of a sudden they’re really fatigued, a lot more short of breath, and having chest pains,” said Dr. Ken Lyn-Kew. He is a pulmonologist at National Jewish Health in Denver.
Larry King’s 3-Pack-a-Day Habit
For years, King smoked three packs a day. He quit after he had his first heart attack at 1987.
He wrote two books about the experience. In one of them, called Taking on Heart Disease, he admits to being so addicted that he lit up as he was being rushed to the hospital with chest pains.
That was the last cigarette he ever had. After having bypass surgery, he became a crusader to encourage others to quit.
But his smoking came back to haunt him nearly three decades later when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. King had surgery to remove the tumor.
Smoking may also have a contributed to the severity of his bout with COVID-19.
A major analysis published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research found that a history of smoking—whether you’ve quit or still smoke—doubles your chance of severe COVID.
But a separate study found that there’s a way ex-smokers may be able to repair their damaged lungs.
Lycopene Can Help Ex-Smokers
Researchers followed 680 adults for 10 years. The subjects included smokers, ex-smokers, and people who never smoked. The average age of the participants at the start of the study was 44.
Each subject answered detailed questionnaires about their diet. At the beginning and end of the 10-year study, researchers tested each person’s lung function.
After age 35, lung function begins to weaken whether you smoke or not.
But researchers found that ex-smokers who consumed more than two fresh tomatoes a day had a 15% slower decline during the study compared to those who ate less than one tomato a day.
Dr. Vanessa Garcia-Larsenis is an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of International Health. She was lead author of the research. “This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking,” she said.
The research was published in the European Respiratory Journal.
Scientists believe that lycopene may be the key component in tomatoes that is beneficial to lungs. Lycopene is the compound that gives tomatoes their red color. It is a natural antioxidant. Researchers have found that it reduces airway inflammation and may help prevent lung cancer. 
In addition to eating tomatoes and drinking tomato juice, you can get lycopene through a supplement. Lycopene capsules are widely sold online and at health food stores. A common dosage is 30 mg a day.
Even decades after he quit, Larry King regretted the fact that he had been a heavy smoker.
“Why would an intelligent, reasonable person smoke?” he said in an interview with PBS. “Why would you smoke? It’s insane.”
If you smoke, it’s never been more important that you kick the habit. If you have already quit, consider taking lycopene.
Editor’s Note: Read our monthly newsletter Independent Healing to discover the most-effective, science-backed strategies to stay healthy during the pandemic.
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