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Strawberries 'may cut heart attacks in women'
High levels of dietary flavonoids in strawberries and blueberries may protect the heart
15th January 2013 - Eating large quantities of strawberries and blueberries may cut the risk of young and middle aged women having a heart attack, says a study.
Scientists in the UK and America studied the diet of 93,600 women aged 25 to 42 and found women who ate three or more portions of the berries each week had almost a third reduction in the risk of a heart attack compared to women who ate them once a month or less.
Heart health experts caution about the evidence for linking specific types of fruit with a reduction in heart disease.
Blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of naturally occurring compounds called dietary flavonoids. A specific sub-class of flavonoids, called anthocyanins, may help dilate arteries, counter the build-up of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits, according to the study, which is published in the Journal 'Circulation'.
Scientists from the University of East Anglia and Harvard School of Public Health in the US, looked at data from women aged 25 to 42 who were registered with the Nurses' Health Study II in the United States. Those enrolled in the study completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for 18 years.
During the study, volunteers experienced 405 heart attacks. Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had a 32% reduction in their risk of heart attack compared to women who ate the berries once a month or less - even in women who otherwise ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables.
Lead author Professor Aedín Cassidy, who is head of the Department of Nutrition at Norwich Medical School of the University of East Anglia, tells us that the benefits may not be confined to just strawberries and blueberries. "Of course, this study was based in a US population - the main dietary sources were blueberries and strawberries in this study as they frequently eat these fruits. However our research focussed on powerful bioactive compounds called anthocyanins present in berries and many other red/blue coloured fruits and vegetables and there are a number of other valuable sources, including blackcurrant, black grapes, eggplant/aubergines, cranberries, raspberries, plums, cherries and in products produced from these."
Fruit and vegetables
Professor Cassidy says what is novel about the study is that it concentrated on heart health risks among younger people. "Most of the current research focuses on men or older women and what was novel about this study is that we show that even at an early age it is important to eat fruits and vegetables to ward off a risk of a heart attack later in life.
"We showed for the first time that regular intake of substances naturally present in red/blue coloured fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 32% in young and middle aged women.
"These study findings are important as we currently know little about risk factors for having a heart attack in young/middle aged women and the impact of diet is largely unknown."
Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, says in an emailed statement that more research is needed to understand any link between berries and better heart health. "We would need to know more before we make specific recommendations about individual fruit and vegetables in relation to heart disease.
"But in the meantime, this is yet another good reason to make sure we get our five-a-day and enjoy the wide variety of fruit and vegetables available to us."