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The Best Group of Foods for Cardiovascular Health

Nutrition experts know that the best food group for preventing and fighting cancer are the cruciferous vegetables or cabbage family vegetables. They include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens and others. Cancer is the second leading cause of death of Americans. But here is the latest news that I just discovered in May 2009, the same time that Microsoft came out with Windows 7. The best food group for helping with cardiovascular problems is berries.

Who says so? I do. Why do I say this? That is what this article is about. If I am wrong, then you can have fun finding the holes in my theory. The botanical definition of a berry is a simple fruit produced from a single ovary, such as a grape or a tomato. However, in everyday English, a berry is a term for any small edible fruit. So I will go by the everyday English meaning. Heart attacks and strokes are the first and third leading cause of death of Americans.

Even though we are not using the first definition, grapes have the phytochemical resveratrol in them. Tomatoes have the phytochemical lycopene in them. Both are good for cardiovascular health and for cancer protection. The first thing is the Doctrine of Signatures. This states that an herb, botanical or plant food sometimes gives a clue about what it is good for by its appearance like ginseng root looking like a human body or a walnut looking like a brain.

Berries are the color of blood. Blood that is very oxygenated is red, but blood without oxygen can appear blueish or purple. Just look at the veins of someone with varicose veins. Lycopene is the phytochemicial in many foods that make them red. One newer red berry that is great for cardiovascular health is goji berries. Here is what webmd.com says about goji berries:

"Research shows that eating berries -- like blueberries, acai berries, cranberries, strawberries, and cherries -- offers some definite health benefits. Berries like the goji berry are filled with powerful antioxidants and other compounds that may help prevent cancer and other illnesses, including heart disease."

Strawberries are said to help lower high blood pressure (hypertension) See study done by clicking on the following link. Another good example of the Doctrine of Signatures is the strawberry. It is red and is shaped like a heart. Note that berries have different anthocyans (a group of phytochemicals) that strengthens the inner lining of the arteries.  Common problems with arteries include angina, congestive heart failure, intermittent claudication, peripheral arterial disease (PAD), strokes and heart attacks. The above website says:

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"A recent study conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health found that participants eating the most strawberries had the lowest blood levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood vessels, and slightly lower cholesterol levels than those who consumed fewer strawberries. Another study found that strawberry eaters have lower blood pressure than non-strawberry eaters. Further, strawberries are a good source of potassium, which helps regulate electrolytes in the body, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Strawberries' folate, fiber, and vitamin C also provide heart-protective benefits."

Superfoods Rx (2008) by Steven Pratt, M.D. says (p 28) "The anthocyans also work synergistically with vitamin C and other key antioxidants. They strengthen the capillary (tiny blood vessel) system by promoting the production of quality collagen-- the building block of tissues. This important subclass of flavonoids also promotes vasodilation (widening of arteries) and has an inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation-- an aspirin-like effect on blood clot formation." Please note that aspirin are drugs and berries are foods.

Studies show that anthocyanins can help prevent blood clots, improve blood circulation, relax blood vessels, and prevent arthrosclerosis. But scientists have also uncovered a whole host of other powerful effects from anthocyanins, including antiviral and antiallergenic properties. Some research even suggests that anthocyanins can prevent cancer, by blocking carcinogenesis on a molecular level and encouraging tumor cell death.

Webmd.com says "Anthocyanins are responsible for the red, purple, and blue hues in many fruits, vegetables, and flowers." " Anthocyanins and flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that help defend the body against life's stressors. They also play a role in the body's cell protection system. Free radicals are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals. By lessening the destructive power of free radicals, antioxidants may help reduce the risk of some diseases, such as heart disease and cancer."

If you look these things up, you will see that they are also effective for preventing cancer. A recent study from the University of Michigan reveals that new evidence links cherries (a red berry) to heart health benefits. The study found that a cherry enriched diet lowered total weight, body fat (especially the important belly fat), inflammation and cholesterol-- all risk factors associated with heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, being overweight or obese, in particular when the weight is concentrated in the middle, is a major risk factor for heart disease.

There are other red berries like cranberries and then there are the other darker color berries. Some that have attracted a lot of attention for health benefits are acai berries, yumberries and aronia berries that are said to improve circulation and strengthen blood vessels. Here is what the above website says about acai berries "Studies show that anthocyanins can help prevent blood clots, improve blood circulation, relax blood vessels, and prevent arthrosclerosis." Mayoclinic.com says "Acai berries are a good source of antioxidants, fiber and heart-healthy fats."

If you are acting too immature, then you can take elderberries to help you act older, like your elders. Actually elderberry juice is known to lower cholesterol levels and reduce bad cholesterol. This can be highly beneficial in preventing the various heart related disorders. Bilberries are great for night vision. There is a red berry that is great for cardiovascular health. But I have not seen it sold as a berry. I have only seen it sold in capsules or as a tea. Herbalists know that it is the best herb for heart health or cardiovascular health. It is the red hawthorn berry.

Prescription for Herbal Health (2002) by Phyllis Balch says " A large body of scientific research has shown that the fruit, leaves and flowers of various hawthorn species dilate the blood vessels, lower blood pressure and dissolve cholesterol. Hawthorn fights atherosclerosis, in which cholesterol forms plaques on blood-vessel walls. in two ways." It increases the rate that the liver converts bad LDL cholesterol into good HDL cholesterol. It "also fights atherosclerosis by providing antioxidants, which prevent plaque formation." 

Here is more information I came across on bilberries. It says that it is a vasodilater. This means that it widens the blood vessels so the blood pressure is lower. Bilberry is a rich source of anthocyanidins, which gives it the unique ability to stabilize and protect collagen stores. This helps it to prevent capillary leakage and hemorrhage. Bilberry is currently being used to treat vascular and blood disorders, and is a main ingredient in the treatment of many visual problems. It has even been proven effective for varicose veins, thrombosis, diabetes, macular degeneration, and angina.

Due to its rich amounts of anthocyanosides, bilberry is an extremely valuable treatment for a variety of disorders in which leaky veins cause tissue damage. Containing over 15 different anthocyanosides, bilberry protects the veins and arteries, as it boosts a great deal of physiological processes that results in the improved integrity of capillary walls. Additionally, anthocyanosides prevent platelets from sticking to the walls of vessels, which helps to prevent the formation of blood clots.

Acerola cherries also contain anthocyans like other berries, but also contains many times more vitamin C than oranges. Vitamin C is very good for heart and cardiovascular health. A website says that acerola cherries helps high blood pressure, protects against blood clotting and bruising, aids collagen formation and helps to prevent arthrosclerosis. I have never seen them sold, but they are an ingredient in some supplements and juices. Another website says that the acerola cherry promotes healthy capillary function. 

I love blueberries and I just found some great news about the humble blueberry. In commercial blueberry production, smaller species are known as "lowbush blueberries" (synonymous with "wild"), and the larger species as "highbush blueberries". Animal trials were conducted by Marva Sweeney Nixon and her team of researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island, PEI, Canada. They indicate that the consumption of wild blueberries offers protection to the brain against damage from ischemic stroke. Over 95% of people have the ischemic stroke (blocked artery) instead of the hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding artery).
Nutritional Neuroscience. 2002; 5(6): 427-431

New research by Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, Ph.D., and her team of researchers at the University of Maine, Orono, concludes that a diet of wild blueberries may reduce risk from cardiovascular disease (CVD). These findings also suggest that consuming of wild blueberries could help regulate blood pressure and combat atherosclerosis. Studies show that they have the potential to decrease the vulnerability of heart blood vessels to oxidative stress and inflammation in animal models.
Journal of Medicinal Food, 2009; Feb; 12 (1): 21-8
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2009, Jan 19.
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2006 17(2): 109-116
Journal of Medicinal Food, 2005 Mar; 8(1): 8-13

The latest information shows that the anthocyanins in berries can protect people from Parkinson's disease. Study author and American Academy of Neurology member Xiang Gao, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, said that berries can increase dopamine levels, which affect brain processes that control movement, emotional response and the ability to experience pleasure and pain.

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Copyright 2009 by Chuck Bluestein
 

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