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Nurses’ Health Study data finds benefits in berries

Monday January 14, 2013
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Eating three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week may help women reduce their risk of myocardial infarction by as much as a third, according to data from the Nurses’ Health Study II.

Blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of naturally occurring compounds called dietary flavonoids, also found in grapes and wine, blackberries, eggplant and other fruits and vegetables, according to background information for the study, which appears in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association. A specific sub-class of flavonoids, called anthocyanins, may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits, according to the study.

"Blueberries and strawberries can easily be incorporated into what women eat every week," Eric Rimm, DSc, the study’s senior author and associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said in a news release. "This simple dietary change could have a significant impact on prevention efforts."

Blueberries and strawberries were part of this analysis because they are the most consumed berries in the United States. Other foods could produce the same results, the researchers said.

Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom 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 MIs occurred. Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries had a 32% reduction in their risk of MI compared with women who ate those berries once a month or less, even if they 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," Aedín Cassidy, PhD, the study’s lead author and head of the Department of Nutrition at Norwich Medical School of the University of East Anglia, said in the news release.

The findings were independent of other risk factors, such as age, hypertension, family history of MI, body mass, exercise, smoking, caffeine and alcohol intake.

The American Heart Association supports eating berries as part of an overall balanced diet that also includes other fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get the right amounts of nutrients.

The study is available at http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/127/2/188.full.


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