Health & Fitness: Diet 'high in flavonoids' could ‘protect' you against stroke and heart attack - new study

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There are several indicators that you're at risk of a heart attack or stroke. A high level of "bad" cholesterol in your blood is one sign. But another is high levels of calcium in your blood vessels. But new research published yesterday has found that foods and beverages "high in flavanoids", including black tea, green tea, berries, and more can provide "protection" against the buildup of calcium.

Heart attacks and strokes are usually caused by fatty substances becoming lodged in your artery walls, which block blood flow through them.

In a stroke, it's the arteries feeding your brain with oxygen that becomes blocked. This causes entire regions of the brain to die. And in a heart attack, it's the arteries feeding your heart that get blocked.

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Calcium is a sign of fat buildup in your arteries (plaque), as calcium is found in these deposits.

Professor Cathy Shanahan, a Professor of Cellular Signalling at King's College London, explains: "You have probably heard of the term 'hardening of the arteries' - this is the same thing as calcification. The calcium forms hard crystals in the blood vessel wall."

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Black tea © GETTY Black tea

But a study, published yesterday in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, suggests that this process may be slowed down by eating flavonoids.

It found that people who consumed a higher intake of the flavonoids, or two types of specific flavonoids were between 36 to 39 percent less likely to have an extensive calcium buildup in the largest artery in the body - known as the abdominal aorta.

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The abdominal aorta moves blood from the heart to many of the organs around your tummy area and your lower limbs. In the past, researchers have shown that the buildup of calcium in the abdominal aorta is a marker of widespread fatty buildup in the blood vessels around your body. They have also found that it can be used to predict if people are going to have problems with their blood vessels or heart.

The leading author of the study, Ben Parmenter, of the Edith Cowan University Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute, explained where most people can get flavonoids from.

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He said: "In most populations, a small group of foods and beverages -- uniquely high in flavonoids -- contribute the bulk of total dietary flavonoid intake."

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"The main contributors are usually black or green tea, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, red wine, apples, raisins/grapes and dark chocolate."

Flavonoids are chemicals known to have several benefits for the immune system. They've been shown to help drive down inflammation and protect your cells from oxidative damage.

The study, supported by the US charity The Heart Foundation, looked at 881 elderly women with an average age of 80.

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Strawberries © Getty Strawberries

Most of these women were getting their flavonoid content from black tea. Compared with the women who didn't drink tea, people who had two-to-six cups per day had 16 to 42 percent less chance of having extensive calcium buildup in their main artery.

But the researchers emphasise that even none tea drinkers had plenty of benefits.

"Out of the women who don't drink black tea, higher total non-tea flavonoid intake also appears to protect against extensive calcification of the arteries," Parmenter said.

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"This implies flavonoids from sources other than black tea may be protective against AAC when tea is not consumed."

Heart attack symptoms © Express Heart attack symptoms

However, the study did have some caveats. Certain sources of flavonoids, including fruit juice, red wine, and chocolate, did not show a significant link.

What else can you do if you're worried about your heart?

Although this study shows flavonoids may help, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to cut your risk of heart attack or stroke.

One is to cut back on foods containing high levels of saturated fat, including hard cheeses, meat pies, and processed meat. Saturated fat is known to prevent your body from removing "bad" cholesterol from your blood - allowing it to build up.

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