Studies: Smart Foods Drop Blood Pressure - Lower Cholesterol
Posted Aug 06 2009 11:08pm
If you're looking to improve your health -or just prevent disease – two new Smart Foods may be your answer!
By Colette Bouchez
If you suffer with either high blood pressure or high cholesterol the news this week will put a smile on your face: Two new studies show that adding a few simple foods to your diet may work as well as a leading medication in reducing some related health risks!
Continuing to pave the road to better health via “Smart Foods”, researchers have found that nutrients found in both cocoa powder and colorful fruits like raspberries and blueberries, appear to have the power to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol – and in some instances may work as well as some popular medications!
A Cup of Cocoa For Your Blood Pressure
In the first new study published in the journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry a group of Spanish researchers found that a single dose of a cocoa powder enriched with natural compounds known as flavonoids demonstrated the ability to cause an almost immediate and significant drop in blood pressure in hypertensive rats.
Indeed, the rats treated with a dose of cocoa powder equal to 300mg of polyphenols per kg of weight experienced a reduction of nearly 60mmHg on their systolic pressure ( the top number) within 4 hours – similar to the effect of a 50mg/kg dosage of the popular blood pressure drug Captopril.
“This is important because this drug is known to be a very effective anti hypertensive treatment in clinical practice “, wrote the researchers, led by Amaya Aleixandre from the Faculty of Medicine at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid.
Rats in the study also saw a drop in diastolic blood pressure ( bottom number) of around 50mmHg, and this drop required even less of the cocoa powder to achieve. The rats who had normal pressure experienced no decrease in pressure.
Now before you say “Oh yeah, well it's just rats”, it's important to note that at this time, the rat model for high blood pressure is the closest to the human model for hypertension – and that testing represents a fairly accurate representation of how humans might respond.
“Spontaneously hypertensive rats represent nowadays the best experimental model for essential hypertension in humans,” say the researchers.
As such, they are encouraged by the finding and believe that further study will show the results will translate to humans.
Moreover, this simple change in diet may be especially important for women over 40. This month the Harvard Women's Health Watch reports that the older a woman gets, the greater her chances of developing high blood pressure. In fact, hypertension now affects nearly half of women in their 60s, and 80% or more of those over age 75.
Smart Foods To The Rescue
What makes this study so particularly important is that in addition to proving the effects of the fortified cocoa, it also ruled out a common belief about the helpful effects of chocolate – namely that it's health effects are related to a natural chemical known as theobromine. Indeed, because theobromine normally causes a dose-dependent reaction, and in this study similar reactions were seen with varied doses of the cocoa, researchers say it's another factor making the difference.
“Different data of this study support therefore that the blood pressure lowering effect exhibited by [the cocoa] would be mainly due to the presence of procyanidins.” Procyanidin is a type of flavonoid that is naturally high in cocoa.
Perhaps not coincidentally, a cousin to this this compound and also a member of the flavonoid family – a natural chemical known as anthocyanin was the subject of a second new study published this week – and was found to reduce cholesterol.
According to research just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a group of Chinese scientists from Sun Yat-Sen University studied a group of 120 men and women between the ages of 40 and 65, all of whom had high cholesterol.
The participants were randomly chosen to receive either a twice daily dose of a berry supplement containing 160 mg anthocyanin twice daily, or a placebo. The result: After 12 weeks those taking the berry supplement saw a nearly 14 percent increase in HDL ( the “good” cholesterol ) compared to a 2.8 percent increase in the placebo group.
Moreover, those taking the berry supplements also saw a similar decrease of 13.6 percent in LDL ( the “bad” cholesterol), while the placebo group had a decrease of just 0.6 percent.
“Anthocyanin supplementation in humans improves LDL- and HDL-cholesterol concentrations and enhances the cellular cholesterol efflux to serum,” wrote the researchers.
Anthocyanin is found in great abundance in fruits like blueberries and blackberries. They work primarily by reducing the production of cytokines, inflammatory chemicals produced by various cells in the body, but particularly by fat cells. An increase in body fat, particularly “belly fat” is known to be a risk factor for high cholesterol.
The Future of Smart Foods
The good news on both these Smart Foods could not come at a better time since incidence of both high blood pressure and high cholesterol continue to be a major health threat both in America and Europe. In fact, while we may be sitting up nights worrying about whether or not there's going to be a Swine Flu vaccine that really works, the truth is both high blood pressure and cholesterol are likely to cause much more harm to many more.
Indeed, both conditions are high risk factors for stroke and heart attack – which remain two of the biggest killer diseases of our time - and the fact that effective protection could come from our dinner plate and not necessarily a bottle of pills is an awesome concept.
That said, it's also important to note that in both instances the natural compounds used in the studies were somewhat enhanced. In the case of the cocoa, the beans were processed in a way that preserved the natural levels of flavonoids – something that might not be true of all commercially available cocoas. In the cholesterol study the protective factors found in berries were concentrated into a supplement.
That said, certainly if you include these healthy foods in your diet on a daily basis – in any form – you are likely to not only garner some of the therapeutic effects, but also some all-important disease prevention.
Colette Bouchez is the co-author of the just published book The New Fertility Diet Guide – a look at how smart foods can help you get pregnant faster at any age.
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