by Bernice Watts

Berry good advice

Berries could lower your risk of heart attack

Berries could reduce the risk of heart attack
Berries are good for you

Researchers claim that if you increase your intake of strawberries and blueberries, you could stave off potential heart attacks.

Findings from an ongoing study suggest that eating these summer fruits every other day could cut the risk of heart attack in women by up to a third. The study involved 93 600 participants in the Nurses' Health Study II, and could also apply to men.

Women aged 25 to 42 completed questionnaires about their diet while their health was monitored over 18 years. During the study, 405 heart attacks were recorded. Women who ate the most strawberries and blueberries – at least three times a week – had a 32% lower risk than those consuming the berries once a month or less.

Even participants with diets rich in other fruits and vegetables were more likely to experience heart attacks if they avoided strawberries and blueberries.

Experts believe the benefits come from the high content of flavonoids in berry fruits, which appear to combat blocked arteries. Scientist believe the protective effect could be linked to anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that may help open up arteries and counter the build-up of fatty deposits on blood vessel walls.

Flavonoids are antioxidant compounds found in plants as well as tea and red wine, which can protect against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia. 

Dr Eric Rimm, one of the senior study authors from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said: "Blueberries and strawberries can easily be incorporated into what women eat every week."

Nutritionist Dr Aedin Cassidy, from the University of East Anglia, who took part in the research, said: "We have shown that even at an early age, eating more of these fruits may reduce risk of a heart attack in later life."

The scientists took account of risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, body mass, lack of exercise, smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption, as well as family medical history, which could have influenced the results.

Other foods may have similar benefits, say the researchers. Strawberries and blueberries were chosen for the study because they are the most commonly eaten berries.

Previous research suggested a diet high in berries could slow the development of memory problems in the elderly.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said, "This study found an association between a diet rich in red and purple fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and strawberries and a reduction in heart attack risk for young and middle-aged women.

"However, more research is needed to understand why this link between berries and better heart health exists. 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," she added.

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