Eating Berries May Cut Heart Attack Risk

Albion strawberries at the Pasadena market
Albion strawberries at the Pasadena market
Felicia Friesema

Eating three or more servings of red and blue berries a week may help reduce a woman's risk of heart attack, a new study suggests.

The study included nearly 94,000 young and middle-aged women who took part in the Nurses' Health Study II, according to U.S. News & World Report. The women completed questionnaires about their diet every four years for 18 years.

During the study period, 405 participants had heart attacks. Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries were 32% less likely to have a heart attack, compared to women who ate berries once a month or less. This held true even among women who ate a diet rich in other fruits and vegetables. The findings appeared online January 14 in the journal Circulation.

This benefit was found to be independent of other heart risk factors such as advancing age, high blood pressure, family history of heart attack, body mass index, exercise, smoking and caffeine and alcohol intake

The study doesn't say specifically what about the berries seemed to result in a lower risk of heart attack among the women. But blueberries and strawberries contain high levels of compounds that may help widen arteries, which counters plaque buildup, the researchers said. Heart attacks can occur when plaque blocks blood flow to the heart.

"Berries were the most commonly consumed sources of these substances in the U.S. diet, and they are one of the best sources of these powerful bioactive compounds," said study lead author Aedin Cassidy. "These substances, called anthocyanins -- a flavonoid -- are naturally present in red- and blue-colored fruits and vegetables, so they are also found in high amounts in cherries, grapes, eggplant, black currants, plums and other berries."

Men are likely to have the same benefit from eating berries, but this study only included women, said Cassidy, who is head of the department of nutrition at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in England.

"These data are important from a public health perspective because these fruits can be readily incorporated into the habitual diet," the study concluded.

One serving of blueberries or strawberries equals about one cup.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

(Crunchberries, althought delicious, don't count.)


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