Eating three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week may help women reduce their risk of a heart attack by as much as one-third, say researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the Norwich Medical School of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom.
Blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of naturally occurring compounds called flavonoids, also found in grapes and wine, tea, blackberries, eggplant and other fruits and vegetables. A specific sub-class of flavonoids plentiful in berries, called anthocyanins, may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits the researchers noted.
Blueberries and strawberries were part of this analysis simply because they are the most-eaten berries in the United States. Thus, it's possible that other foods could produce the same results, researchers said.
The scientists conducted a prospective study among 93,600 women ages 25 to 42 who were registered with the Nurses' Health Study II. The women completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for 18 years.
During the study, 405 heart attacks occurred. Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had a 32-percent 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.
"We have shown that even at an early age, eating more of these fruits may reduce risk of a heart attack later in life," said the lead author.
The findings were independent of other risk factors, such as age, high blood pressure, family history of heart attack, body mass, exercise, smoking, caffeine or alcohol intake.
Source: Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, January 2013.
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