Berries are one of my super foods, and are represented by the second “B” in G-BOMBS. Rich in fiber and phytochemicals and low in calories, they have the highest Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scores of all fruits. Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are vibrantly colored with antioxidant phytochemicals, and they are some of the highest antioxidant foods in existence.
The deep red, blue and purple pigments of berries are produced by flavonoid antioxidant molecules called anthocyanins, which are concentrated in the skins of the fruits.1 Flavonoids, including anthocyanins, are not merely antioxidants; they are thought to have a number of additional beneficial effects in the body that are unrelated to their antioxidant capacity. In my book, The End of Heart Disease, I cite several studies that have shown that high flavonoid intake is associated with considerable risk reductions (up to 45%) for coronary heart disease.2-5
Recent research highlights the cardio-protective properties of berries
A 2011 study investigated berry consumption in relation to risk for elevated blood pressure. Compared to eating no blueberries, just one serving per week decreased the risk of hypertension by 10%.6,7 New findings published in January 2013 from the Nurses’ Health Study support these results with data in younger women (age 25-42 at the start) who were followed for 18 years. In these women, three or more weekly servings of blueberries or strawberries was linked to a 34% reduced risk of heart attack compared to lower intake of berries.8
How do berries and their colorful anthocyanins protect the heart and blood vessels?
Studies using berries or berry phytochemicals in human participants or on human cells have uncovered some of the possible protective actions of berries on the cardiovascular system. Berry flavonoids seem to act in several different ways to maintain heart health. In human subjects, researchers found that berries mitigated oxidative stress, decreased oxidation of LDL (which helps to prevent the production of atherosclerotic plaque), increased blood antioxidant capacity, and in some cases improved lipid levels, blood pressure or blood glucose.
Higher anthocyanin and berry intake is associated with reduced C-reactive protein (CRP), suggesting that berries may curb inflammation; additional studies have confirmed that berries have anti-inflammatory properties. Berry phytochemicals also may enhance nitric oxide production in the blood vessels, which helps to properly regulate blood pressure.1,9-12
Why not amplify these benefits by eating berries every day?
If observational studies showed a 10% decrease in hypertension risk for one serving of blueberries per week, and a 34% reduced risk of heart attack from 3 servings of berries per week, imagine the protection that is possible when you eat berries every day! Even during winter, we can get our daily dose of anthocyanins from frozen berries. Also remember that in addition to promoting heart health, berries also have anti-cancer effects and provide protection against diabetes and dementia.13-16
Erdman JW, Jr., Balentine D, Arab L, et al: Flavonoids and heart health: proceedings of the ILSI North America Flavonoids Workshop, May 31-June 1, 2005, Washington, DC.The Journal of nutrition 2007, 137:718S-737S.
Huxley RR, Neil HA: The relation between dietary flavonol intake and coronary heart disease mortality: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.Eur J Clin Nutr 2003, 57:904-908.
Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, et al: Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases.The American journal of clinical nutrition 2002, 76:560-568.
Mursu J, Voutilainen S, Nurmi T, et al: Flavonoid intake and the risk of ischaemic stroke and CVD mortality in middle-aged Finnish men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.The British journal of nutrition 2008, 100:890-895.
Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, et al: Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women.The American journal of clinical nutrition 2007, 85:895-909.
Cassidy A, O'Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al: Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults.The American journal of clinical nutrition 2011, 93:338-347.
Bioactive Compounds in Berries Can Reduce High Blood Pressure. In ScienceDaily; 2011.
Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, et al: High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women.Circulation 2013, 127:188-196.
Galleano M, Pechanova O, Fraga CG: Hypertension, nitric oxide, oxidants, and dietary plant polyphenols.Current pharmaceutical biotechnology 2010, 11:837-848.
Basu A, Rhone M, Lyons TJ: Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health.Nutr Rev 2010, 68:168-177.
Chong MF, Macdonald R, Lovegrove JA: Fruit polyphenols and CVD risk: a review of human intervention studies.The British journal of nutrition 2010, 104 Suppl 3:S28-39.
Basu A, Du M, Leyva MJ, et al: Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome.J Nutr 2010, 140:1582-1587.
Stoner GD: Foodstuffs for preventing cancer: the preclinical and clinical development of berries.Cancer Prev Res (Phila) 2009, 2:187-194.
Stoner GD, Wang LS, Casto BC: Laboratory and clinical studies of cancer chemoprevention by antioxidants in berries.Carcinogenesis 2008, 29:1665-1674.
Wedick NM, Pan A, Cassidy A, et al: Dietary flavonoid intakes and risk of type 2 diabetes in US men and women.Am J Clin Nutr 2012, 95:925-933.
Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, et al: Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline.Ann Neurol 2012.
Joel Fuhrman, M.D. is a board-certified family physician, seven-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally recognized expert on nutrition and natural healing, who specializes in preventing and reversing disease through nutritional methods. Dr. Fuhrman coined the term “Nutritarian” to describe his longevity-promoting, nutrient dense, plant-rich eating style.
For over 30 years, Dr. Fuhrman has shown that it is possible to achieve sustainable weight loss and reverse heart disease, diabetes and many other illnesses using smart nutrition. In his medical practice, and through his books and PBS television specials, he continues to bring this life-saving message to hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
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