In the U.S., heart disease accounts for approximately one out of every four deaths. While men account for over half of these deaths, over 42 million women are currently living with some type of cardiovascular disease and over eight million woman have a history of heart attack or angina.
Despite the majority of heart disease related deaths occurring to men, heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death for American woman, accounting for one-third of all deaths. Just over 35 percent of all deaths in women over the age of 20 are caused by cardiovascular disease, and five times as many women die each year of heart attack than from breast cancer.
Considering the stark nature of these statistics, the recently published results of a study on women’s health can only be considered encouraging, as researchers have found strong evidence to suggest that young and middle-aged women who regularly consume strawberries and blueberries can lower their risk of heart attack as they age.
Published in the journal Circulation, researchers began the study in an attempt to examine how the antioxidants anthocyanins, a compound plants routinely use to protect and repair cellular damage, affect the heart. Anthocyanins provide the purple, blue, and red colors found naturally in blueberries, strawberries, and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Researchers proceeded by following over 93,000 women over a 18-year period. The women involved in the study ranged from ages 25 to 42 when they first agreed to participate, and reported on their diet once every four years.
By examining the data provided by these dietary questionnaires, researchers discovered a trend that showed women who consumed more than three servings of strawberries and blueberries a week had a lower risk of suffering from heart attack than women who ate fewer servings. For the purpose of the study, one serving was considered half a cup.
Researchers concluded that anthocyanins can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32 percent in young and middle-aged women. These results echoed other studies that found women who enjoyed diets high in fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of suffer from heart disease.
Before you go out and buy your own blueberry bush, researcher were quick to point out that the study used purely observational techniques, meaning that it cannot prove that strawberries and blueberries improve a woman’s heart health. Women who regularly eat these type of berries might also engage in other activities that lower their risk of heart attack that researchers were not aware of as part of the study.
This stipulation aside, the results of study should cause some optimism.
Researchers elected to select strawberries and blueberries instead of other fruits that contain anthocyanins because they are among the most commonly eaten variety of berry.
The study divided the participants into different groups, five in total, based on how much fruit they consumed as part of their diet. Women who consumed the most berries in their diet showed the greatest impact on lowering their risk of heart attack.
To ensure berries weren’t the only health factor considered, researchers also examined the health records of the women involved for any known risk factors of heart attack, such as age, blood pressure, family history, weight, smoking habit, caffeine consumption, exercise routines, and alcohol use.
Researchers found that they women who consumed the most fruit were also likely to report additional heart-healthy habits, such as being more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke.
While more research needs to be conducted, researchers are fairly certain than all women between the ages of 20 to 50 can enjoy the benefits of a diet rich in these type of berries and other foods containing anthocyanins. Whether these types of foods have any effect on men’s health still needs study.
Timothy Lemke is a freelance health writer. To read more of his work, visit the website of Dr. Richard Dietrich, a Portland, OR dentist.