Berry Science

The Mediterranean diet was originally found to be a healthy diet by comparing populations who followed the diet with those who didn’t.  The result?  Mediterranean diet followers had less cardiovascular disease, less cancer, and longer life.

Over the last 15 years, researchers have been clarifying exactly how and why this might be the case.  A study from Finland is a typical example.

The traditional Mediterranean diet has an abundance of fresh fruit, including berries.  Berries are a rich source of polyphenols and vitamin C, substances with the potential to affect metabolic and disease processes in our bodies.

The Finnish researchers studied 72 middle-aged subjects, having half of them consume moderate amounts of berries, and half consume a placebo product over 8 weeks.  Compared with the placebo group, the berry eaters showed inhibited platelet funtion, a 5% increase in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), and a 7-point drop in systolic blood pressure.

What does platelet function have to do with anything?  Platelets are critical components of blood clots.  Blood clots can stop life-threatening bleeding, but also contribute to life-threatening heart attacks and strokes.  Inhibition of platelet function can decrease the occurence of blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes.  That’s why millions of people take daily aspirin, the best known platelet inhibitor.

Cardiovascular disease is a group of conditions that include high blood pressure, heart attacks, poor circulation, and strokes.  Berry consumption in this small Finnish study resulted in favorable changes in blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and platelet function.  These changes would tend to reduce the occurence and severity of cardiovascular disease.

So berries don’t just taste good, they’re good for us.  If price is a concern, focus on the berries that are in season or use frozen berries.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Erlund, I., et al, Favorable effects of berry consumption on platelet function, blood pressure, and HDL cholesterol.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 87 (2007): 323-331.

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