Berries Cut Heart Attack Risk by a Third in NHS Group.

by Leigh on January 17, 2013

berries for heart health highbush blueberries

Wild highbush blueberries are rich in heart-healthy anthocyanidins.

Blueberries and strawberries are associated with a significant reduction in the risk of a heart attack according to a recent study. A diet rich in anthocyanins, found in abundance in berries, reduced (myocardial infarction) MI risk by 32% in the analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study, with consumption of the specific berries having a similar effect over the 18 year follow-up period.

Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that have previously been associated with benefits for heart health and reduction of inflammation so it seems there is a growing body of evidence supporting the use of berry-rich diets for a naturally healthy heart.

Berries Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet

The study, published in the journal Circulation this month, looked at the levels of anthocyanin-rich foods in the nurses’ diets and the incidence of MI. Dr Aedín Cassidy (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK) and colleagues, found that the associated benefit of the berries remained even when accounting for other clinical conditions that could affect the risk of MI, as well as dietary and non-dietary risk factors for heart attacks such as potassium, folate and total fruit and vegetable intake.

Finding ways of reducing the risk of heart attacks using diet are increasingly popular as it is often easier to incorporate dietary changes than it is to have patients engage in other interventions. Of course, the study was only carried out on data from younger women, with an average age of 36, who work in the field of health care as nurses.

Natural Heart Health Strategies

It is also important to note that the women who reported eating more anthocyanin-rich foods, such as berries, were more physically active and less likely to smoke, had lower body weights, less history of high cholesterol and blood pressure and generally ate healthier diets than those who did not eat berries regularly. Statistical correction was used to adjust for these factors but the correlation of healthy behaviours is, in itself, interesting. The women with lower risk of heart attacks overall had higher fibre diets, consumed less saturated and trans fats, did not smoke, were more active, ate more berries and whole grains and had higher intakes of potassium.

Best Berries for Heart Health

This study found that every 15mg increment in anthocyanin intake reduced MI risk by 17%, with over 21mg found in just 100g of fresh acerola cherries, over 90mg found in 100g of blackberries, and even 139mg found in 100g of blueberries (USDA, 2011). Other studies have found significant variations in levels of anthocyanins between types of berries, with Saskatoon and wild blueberries having higher levels of the flavonoid than other berries (Hosseinian and Beta, 2007).


Foods High In Heart Healthy Anthocyanins

There are a number of foods rich in anthocyanins, including:

  • Blueberries
  • strawberries
  • eggplant (aubergine)
  • blackberries
  • blackcurrants

Planning a Heart Healthy Diet

More than three servings a week of strawberries and blueberries was associated with a 34% reduction in risk of heart attack, but commenters have noted that piling these berries on top of a cream-laden pie is not an ideal strategy for MI risk reduction. It should also be noted that not everyone has access to fresh fruit year-round, nor can everyone afford quality freeze-dried berry powder as a supplement, and and so such dietary recommendations need to acknowledge the risk of stigmatising those unable to eat optimally for a naturally healthy heart.

References

Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, et al. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation 2013; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.112.122408. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org.

Seema Bhagwat, David B. Haytowitz and Joanne M. Holden, USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods, Release 3, Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, September 2011, http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/Flav/Flav_R03.pdf

Hosseinian, F. S. and Beta, T., Saskatoon and wild blueberries have higher anthocyanin contents than other Manitoba berries. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2007, 55, 10832-10838.

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