WITH heart and circulatory disease the cause of a quarter of all deaths in the UK and claiming 160,000 lives annually, how can we reduce our risks and improve heart health naturally through diet?
With 7.6 million Brits living with heart or circulatory disease, experts are now identifying and recommending specific foods that may offer fast-acting benefits for long-term health wins. Regular exercise, reducing stress levels and eating lots of fruit and vegetables, especially dark "purple" berry fruits, are all important when it comes to heart health wellness and prevention.
New data is showing that as a nation we should be upping our dietary levels of polyphenolic compounds called anthocyanins. These "high value" heart-healthy bioactives are plant compounds with strong protective effects and could be a simple and cost-effective way of reducing risk of cardiovascular-associated mortality.
Recent investigations involving almost 60,000 adults in Europe and the US highlight the important role of anthocyanins for cardiac protection, yet despite this, no guidelines exist for recommended intake. As biological response modifiers, anthocyanins (pronounced anth-o-sy-an-ins) are one of the most important sources of bioactive compounds in the human diet with a spectrum of lifespan-essential health-protecting benefits.
Anthocyanins are the colour pigments in fruit and vegetables and protect plants against pests, UV light and disease, with the highest concentrations found in berries. Researchers now regard them as being an essential part of dietary heart health strategies.
Blackcurrants offer one of the richest sources of these bioactives, with the highest density of any berry fruit and British research is showing the fast-acting and clinically-significant impact these “super berries” can have on cardiovascular health. Like any healthy habit, regular consumption is the smart way to help future-proof your health – and it’s never too late to start.
Here are four ways that anthocyanins can help keep your heart healthy and active throughout your life.
1. Boosting blood flow is the secret to a longer life
Healthy circulation is the key to longevity14 and essential for the function of vital organs, keeping the brain sharp and enjoying an active lifestyle. For the last decade, anthocyanins have been the subject of intense international academic interest, and in the UK, the University of Chichester have made major breakthroughs to reveal the moderate-to-large changes that blackcurrants can have on cardiovascular function and health.
Their work has unlocked important discoveries, with their latest projects revealing that the New Zealand blackcurrant extract supplement, CurraNZ, increases main arterial blood flow during muscle contraction up to 45 per cent, cardiac output 27 per cent and reduces blood pressure in hypertensive adults, with clinically-significant changes after just four to seven days.
2. Reversing arterial stiffness – a hallmark of ageing and dysfunction
Arteries provide the body’s “superhighway” for blood flow and become stiff and congested with the normal consequences of ageing. These alterations impair blood flow and frequently occur with the development of cardiovascular disease. Arterial stiffness is also a predictor of coronary events. The possible role of anthocyanins for preventing hardening of the arteries came into sharp focus last year, when it was found that compounds in blackcurrants was estimated to reverse the consequences of ageing by ten years after only seven days’ intake of extract. The study in older adults found that daily consumption of berry compounds improved the function of the whole-body blood vessel and arterial function to a clinically-relevant degree.
3. Blood pressure
High blood pressure is regarded as the "silent killer" and affects one in four adults globally. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease and vascular dementia. The role of anthocyanins in helping normalise blood pressure in adults with cardiovascular defects is another compelling reason to include in your diet if you have hypertension. Studies show as little as a week’s intake can provide clinically relevant improvements to helping reduce high blood pressure.
4. Anthocyanins make exercising easier
Being active is central to good health, but undertaking exercise is more difficult if you’re overweight, unfit or have reduced cardiovascular function. Plus, if you have poor circulation, you’ll experience higher fatigue and tire more quickly as exertion places great stress on the cardiovascular system. Blackcurrant’s "relaxing" effect on blood vessels has been shown to make brisk walking a more comfortable experience, because additional blood supply means muscles don’t have to work so hard. The boost to oxygen delivery means anyone undertaking exercise can better cope with fatigue, making it easier for the body to deal with strenuous activity.
Adding two "purple" foods a day, ie two handfuls of dark-coloured berries, on top of our "five a day" is a good starting point – and regardless of your age, it’s never too late to include more anthocyanins into the diet.
You can also take New Zealand blackcurrant extract, CurraNZ.