Foods that are rich in flavonoids, a group of plant chemicals, can help decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease, and the benefits are especially protective for people with unhealthy habits.
Now, researchers from Edith Cowan University in Austria have found that flavonoids could be beneficial even for people who drink heavily or smoke.
The researchers reviewed and analyzed diet data from the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health cohort. For the cohort, 53,048 Danish residents were followed for 23 years.
Flavonoid-rich foods like apples and tea decreased the risk of death from heart disease or cancer for many of the participants in the study.
These protective benefits were much stronger for people who smoked or drank more than two alcoholic drinks a day.
“These findings are important as they highlight the potential to prevent cancer and heart disease by encouraging the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, particularly in people at high risk of these chronic diseases,” said Dr. Nicola Bondonno, the lead researcher of the study.
For smokers, it may be much easier to eat flavonoid-rich foods than quit smoking right away, but the researchers note that flavonoids can only protect against so much.
“We know these kind of lifestyle changes can be very challenging, so encouraging flavonoid consumption might be a novel way to alleviate the increased risk, while also encouraging people to quit smoking and reduce their alcohol intake,” said Bondonno.
The positive benefits were most influential for the participants that consumed 500 milligrams of flavonoids per day.
Don’t go loading up on apples though, as the researchers say balance is key.
“It’s important to consume a variety of different flavonoid compounds found in different plant based food and drink,” said Bondonno. “This is easily achievable through the diet: one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g of blueberries, and 100g of broccoli would provide a wide range of flavonoid compounds and over 500mg of total flavonoids”.
It is not yet clear why flavonoids were linked to lower risk of death, and there could be many underlying factors at play. One explanation might be that flavonoids are anti-inflammatory and smoking can damage blood vessels.
What the study does show is that flavonoid-rich foods can help protect against cancer and heart disease, even in people more at risk due to lifestyle choices.
The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.
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