It’s summertime, and that means two of my favorite things are “in season.” I’m talking about swimming and deliciously plump, ripe berries. Now you can indulge in either year round (and I do), but don’t they both seem just a little bit sweeter in the warm months?
Swimming and berries have something else in common too, they can both boost your heart health and help ward off heart attacks. Now I’m betting that “news” doesn’t surprise you a bit when it comes to swimming. After all, everyone knows our hearts are BIG fans of regular exercise.
But the berries connection to heart health probably wasn’t on your radar. Which is a shame, because researchers say there’s a strong link between eating three or more servings of strawberries and blueberries a week and a stunning 32 percent plunge in heart attack risk.
Not bad for a bunch of berries many of us love to eat anyway.
Slash your heart attack risk by one third with berries?
Now this was an observational study which, as I’ve explained before, reveals associations between things, but doesn’t conclusively prove one thing causes another. In other words, it just simply highlights interesting links that we should pay closer attention to and delve into deeper.
But, as I’ve also explained before, observational studies are typically the smoke that reveals a fire. And they help define areas where we should do even more research.
In this case, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and a U.K. team from the University of East Anglia teamed up to dig into the massive amount of data gathered from 93,600 women aged 25 to 42 who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II.
Participants in the study completed extensive questionnaires every four years for 18 years about exactly what they ate. According to the study published in the journal Circulation, when the numbers were crunched researchers spotted a significant link between a reduced risk of heart attack and women who enjoyed blueberries and strawberries regularly.
The women who indulged in the berries at least three times a week had a stunning 32 percent less risk of heart attack than the unlucky ladies who ate the berries once a month of less.
32% drop in risk remained after others factors examined
Now of course, as I said earlier this was an observational study so we can’t say if you eat berries you will not have a heart attack. But there’s a whole lot of smoke here so we can be pretty sure there’s a raging fire somewhere nearby. And in fact, there are a couple of other things that help make a very strong case for berry eating
The researchers carefully examined the data for other risk factors that could have influenced the results. They factored in things like exercise, family history, age, alcohol use, blood pressure, smoking status and caffeine consumption. And despite all those other variables the 32 percent drop in risk stubbornly remained.
Plus, when researchers took a close look at what else the women were eating those ladies who didn’t eat many berries (or no berries at all), but who did eat tons of other healthy fruits and veggies the difference in risk was STILL there. In other words, it appears that eating more berries is a good idea to help protect your heart.
Why your heart loves berries
While it might seem a bit strange at first that berries are so heart friendly, there are actually some very good reasons why. You see berries are packed with a number of heart-boosting nutrients including antioxidant flavonoids that help protect against cell damage.
And it turns out these berries are brimming with potent heart-friendly flavonoids called anthocyanins. You may have heard of anthocyanins before because they’re one of nutrients that researchers have linked to the so-called “French Paradox” or the mystery of the low incidence of heart disease in France despite their very rich diet.
Experts suspect it’s these same compounds that could be at the heart of the berries heart-protective ability. Anthocyanins, like all flavonoids, are natural anti-inflammatories. They help to ward off arterial stiffness and keep arteries open—and blood flowing freely—by naturally fighting off plaque buildup. (No statin drugs needed!)
My “prescription”? Swim more and eat more (organic) berries. Your heart will thank you!
Dr. Allan Spreen
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