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Women's heart attack risk: Antioxidants in the diet aid prevention

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Women who get antioxidants from food have lower heart attack risk.

A new study shows women who consume a diet rich in a variety antioxidants that come primarily from fruits and vegetables have a lower chance of having a heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI).

Studies have shown the outcome of MI can be more severe for women, compared to men. Women are more likely to die from heart attack.

No one has been certain why heart attacks are deadlier for women. Some studies suggest it might be from differences in interventions. Women don’t always have typical symptoms, which can lead to delayed treatment.

Total antioxidants key to preventing heart disease

The study highlights the importance of eating a variety of foods for maximum heart benefits and is the first to measure the capacity of total antioxidants in food for lowering heart attack risk.

Lead investigator Alicja Wolk, DrMedSci, Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden explained in a media release, "Total antioxidant capacity measures in a single value all antioxidants present in diet and the synergistic effects between them."

For this study, researchers looked at food frequency from questionnaires obtained from 32,561 Swedish women aged 49-83 from September 1997 through December 2007.

Women who consumed the most fruit and vegetables had a 20% lower risk of myocardial infarction, compared to women who ate the fewest.

The highest amount of daily fruit and vegetable intake was 7 servings a day that provided the highest antioxidant capacity. Women with the lowest amount of antioxidants in their diet ate an average of 2.4 servings a day. During the study period, 1114 women had a heart attack.

What about supplements?

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One of the highlights from the research is that supplements failed to have any benefit for heart attack prevention. In some studies, taking supplements was associated with higher risk of dying.

"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," says Dr. Wolk.

Most Americans don’t get enough fruits and vegetables in the diet and instead opt for processed fast foods, which leads to more calories and obesity, according to Pamela Powers Hannley, MPH, Managing Editor of The American Journal of Medicine who commented on the study finding.

Though there are an abundance of weight loss diets, only few emphasize increasing fruit and vegetable intake, says Powers.

It’s important to remember that one serving of vegetables is only about1/2 cup, per guidelines from the USDA. A 6 ounce glass of pure vegetable or fruit juice, ¼ cup of dried fruit, a medium apple, a cup of salad greens or one-half cup of fruit cocktail all count as a serving size.

Stay active to prevent heart disease in addition to keeping your weight normal. A prudent diet, regular exercise, blood pressure control, tobacco avoidance, diabetes testing and control if you’re already diagnosed and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels are all lifestyle interventions for women and men that can prevent heart disease and heart attack.

The study is important because coronary artery disease is one of the leading causes of death among women. If you want to prevent heart attack, the new study shows you really can lower your risk by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables that have antioxidants that you just can’t get from taking supplements.

American Journal of Medicine
October, 2012

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