Next time you’re in the produce aisle, consider adding berries to your cart.
A recent study published by the American Heart Association found that eating three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries a week might reduce the risk of heart attacks in young and middle-aged women by one-third.
Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom surveyed 93,600 healthy women ages 25 to 42 to determine whether or not anthocyanins, a compound found in berries, reduced their risk of heart attacks.
“Our big interest was in the compounds,” said Aedin Cassidy, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and professor of nutrition at the University of East Anglia. “They have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities.”
After 18 years of follow-up, scientists found that there was a 32 percent reduction in the women’s risk of heart attacks, and only 405 documented cases of heart attacks.
“This is one of the first studies that show that small changes to your diet will reduce the risk of heart attack later on in life,” Cassidy said.
Although other berries contain higher concentrations of anthocyanins, Cassidy said blueberries and strawberries are the main sources of these compounds in the United States.
Gary Stoner, professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, said anthocyanins act as antioxidants in the body, removing free radicals that cause tissue damage.
“When you have antioxidants around that sop up the free radicals, they can bind to them and neutralize them, and reduce the damage they would cause,” Stoner said.
Stoner added that increased levels of anthocyanins from blueberries and strawberries can remove more free radicals from the body, preventing tissue damage that leads to heart disease and inflammation.
Elvira de Mejia, professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shared Stoner’s view that anthocyanins could reduce heart disease in women.
“I can see it very easily because of the powerful antioxidant capacity of these compounds,” de Mejia said.
However, Dr. Marla Mendelson, a cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said the study was “not all that revolutionary.”
“If you’re eating a bunch of berries and not ice cream and cake, you’ll be doing better,” Mendelson said, adding that the study basically reinforces the importance of diet and lifestyle.
Cassidy said the next step for researchers is conducting intervention studies that will examine the different levels of anthocyanins in berries, and how they reduce the risk of heart attacks in women.
“It takes two to three years to be completed, but we hopefully should have more data to give comprehensive advice to women about what to eat to reduce the risk and stave off a heart attack,” Cassidy said.