Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in men and women alike. A lifetime of processed foods, lack of exercise, poor lifestyle habits and environmental and household pollutants result in hypertension, elevated blood glucose and hardening of the endothelial lining of arteries that supply the heart. The end result is disability or death from a heart attack or inability of the organ to pump blood and oxygen efficiently throughout our vast network of vessels and capillaries. Fortunately, heart health is within our control by modifying lifestyle risk factors including diet.
Researchers from the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden have published the result of a study in The American Journal of Medicine confirming the critical importance of diet to promote optimal heart health. The study team led by Dr. Alicja Wolk found that a diet rich in antioxidants, mainly from fruits and vegetables, can significantly reduce the risk of myocardial infarction in women.
Dr. Wolk commented "Our study was the first to look at the effect of all dietary antioxidants in relation to myocardial infarction... total antioxidant capacity measures in a single value all antioxidants present in diet and the synergistic effects between them." The scientists performing the study determined that only 14 percent of adults eat the minimally recommended five of more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Many recent studies promote the consumption of at least 10 servings a day to optimize antioxidant intake and lower total calories in the diet.
Seven or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables lower heart disease risk by 20 percent
To evaluate the effects of antioxidants from diet on heart disease risk, researchers followed 32,561 Swedish women, aged 49 to 83 for a period of 10 years. The participants completed a food-frequency questionnaire designed to assess how often they consumed each type of food or beverage during the last year. The scientists calculated estimates of total antioxidant capacity from a database that measures the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) of the most common foods in the United States. They then assigned each woman to one of five groups based on antioxidant capacity supplied by their diet.
During the course of the study, 1,114 women suffered a heart attack. The scientists found that women in the group with the highest total antioxidant capacity had a 20 percent lower risk, and they consumed almost seven servings per day of fruit and vegetables. This level of antioxidant intake was three times more than the women with the lowest antioxidant capacity, who on average consumed fewer than three daily servings.
Dr. Wolk noted that antioxidants from single antioxidant supplements did not provide the same heart disease risk lowering benefits when compared with antioxidants obtained from natural foods. She concluded "In contrast to supplements of single antioxidants, the dietary total antioxidant capacity reflects all present antioxidants, including thousands of compounds, all of them in doses present in our usual diet, and even takes into account their synergistic effects."
A wealth of studies over the past decade have found numerous health benefits from nutrients derived from standardized supplements and include resveratrol, curcumin, EGCG and vitamins C, D and E. Health-minded individuals will eat a diet including 10 or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables to ward off heart disease and complement with targeted supplements from whole food sources to lower the risk of most chronic illnesses.