Berry Good for Your Heart
April 10, 2008—Eating berries might be a tasty way to protect against heart disease. A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who ate berries every day had higher levels of heart-healthy HDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and less blood platelet clumping—a factor that could help prevent dangerous blood clots.
Seventy-two people with one or more risk factors for heart disease took part in the new study to test the effect of eating berries on markers of cardiovascular health. During the eight-week trial, half of the people ate berry mixtures containing bilberries, lingonberries, black currants, strawberries, and raspberry and chokeberry juices two times per day (equivalent to eating 100 grams of berries plus one small glass of berry juice per day). “We used a combination of different berries to ensure a high intake of various polyphenols,” said the authors. As a control, the other people were given sugar water, sweetened wheat or rice cereals, or marmalade.
Among people with the highest initial blood pressure, systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) dropped 7.3 mm Hg in the berry group compared with only 0.2 mm Hg in the control group. While total cholesterol levels were unchanged, people in the berry group had a 5.2% increase in protective HDL cholesterol levels. Eating berries also inhibited platelet function, meaning that it took longer for blood platelets to clump together and form a clot.
Berries contain many beneficial substances including polyphenols, vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and fiber. Polyphenols—also found in cocoa, tea, red wine, onions, and other fruits—have attracted recent attention for their potential health benefits. Some reports have found that polyphenols might help protect against heart disease and cancer. The way that polyphenols work to promote health is not completely understood but is probably tied to their antioxidant properties, as well as their ability to enhance immunity and repair DNA damage from smoking and exposure to other toxins.
“The findings of the study are important because they may partly explain the cardiovascular protective role of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables,” the authors commented. “Other types of studies are now warranted to identify the compounds and mechanisms that are responsible for the observed effects.”
Dr. Erica’s Smooth-Easy
A simple way to incorporate more berries into the diet is with a fruit smoothie. Dr. Erica LePore, a naturopathic physician in Rhode Island, offers her recipe for a tasty way to start the day:
Add the following to a blender:
1 cup of frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup unsweetened yogurt
1/2 cup fruit juice (grape or blueberry are great choices)
1/2 cup soy, rice, or cow’s milk
1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
Mix for one minute. Yields two servings.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:323–31)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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