Berries help keep blood pressure down

Over 5,000 different flavonoid antioxidants have been identified, many of these in commonly consumed plant foods – there are many different types of flavonoids:

  • Flavanols are the most common, and are abundant in onions, kale, leeks, broccoli, apples, blueberries, red wine, and tea.
  • Less common are the flavones, which are found in celery and parsley.
  • Citrus fruits have high levels of flavanones.
  • Flavan-3-ols, which include catechins, are found in grapes, tea, and cocoa.
  • Soybeans contain isoflavones.
  • Anthocyanins (derivatives of anthocyanidins) are potent antioxidants and pigments that color red, blue, and purple foods like berries, grapes, currants, blood oranges, eggplant, red cabbage, red onions, and some beans and grains.1

In addition to their antioxidant capacity, flavonoids may help the ability of the muscle layer of blood vessels to relax (vasodilation). Endothelial cells, which make up the inner layer of blood vessels, produce nitric oxide in order to regulate blood pressure. There is evidence that flavonoids increase the activity of the enzyme (eNOS; endothelial nitric oxide synthase) in endothelial cells necessary for nitric oxide production.2 In agreement with the idea that flavonoids have beneficial effects on blood pressure, a meta-analysis of 15 studies concluded that regular cocoa consumption can reduce blood pressure in hypertensive and pre-hypertensive individuals.3

Photo of strawberries and blueberriesOne notable study focused on the anthocyanins in berries and their effects on blood pressure. Men and women from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and Nurses’ Health study, respectively were followed for 14 years, and their flavonoid intake was calculated based on the foods they reported eating. Reduced risk for hypertension was found for high intake of anthocyanins (an 8% decrease in risk), as well as apigenin (a flavone) and catechin (a flavan-3-ol). The foods that contributed the bulk of the anthocyanin in the diets of the subjects were blueberries and strawberries.

When the researchers analyzed blueberry consumption specifically they found that compared with those who ate no blueberries, those who ate one serving per week decreased their risk of hypertension by 10%. 4,5

If there was a 10% decrease in hypertension risk for one serving of blueberries per week, imagine how protective it would be to eat one serving of berries every day! Also flavonoids act in several other ways to protect against heart disease, for example by reducing inflammation, LDL oxidation, and platelet aggregation. 1,6 As a result of these effects, several prospective studies have found associations between high flavonoid intake and considerable reductions (up to 45%) in the risk of coronary heart disease.7-10 Flavonoids also have documented anti-cancer properties.11,12

Berries truly are superfoods – they are low in sugar, and high in fiber and phytochemicals, with the highest nutrient to calorie ratio of all fruits. Eating berries daily will not only promote vasodilation, but also provide the body with protection against free radicals, inflammation, and cancer.



1. Erdman JW, Jr., Balentine D, Arab L, et al: Flavonoids and heart health: proceedings of the ILSI North America Flavonoids Workshop, May 31-June 1, 2005, Washington, DC. The Journal of nutrition 2007, 137:718S-737S.
2. Galleano M, Pechanova O, Fraga CG: Hypertension, nitric oxide, oxidants, and dietary plant polyphenols. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology 2010, 11:837-848.
3. Ried K, Sullivan T, Fakler P, et al: Does chocolate reduce blood pressure? A meta-analysis. BMC medicine 2010, 8:39.
4. Cassidy A, O'Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al: Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2011, 93:338-347.
5. Bioactive Compounds in Berries Can Reduce High Blood Pressure. In ScienceDaily; 2011.
6. Chong MF, Macdonald R, Lovegrove JA: Fruit polyphenols and CVD risk: a review of human intervention studies. The British journal of nutrition 2010, 104 Suppl 3:S28-39.
7. Huxley RR, Neil HA: The relation between dietary flavonol intake and coronary heart disease mortality: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 2003, 57:904-908.
8. Knekt P, Kumpulainen J, Jarvinen R, et al: Flavonoid intake and risk of chronic diseases. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2002, 76:560-568.
9. Mursu J, Voutilainen S, Nurmi T, et al: Flavonoid intake and the risk of ischaemic stroke and CVD mortality in middle-aged Finnish men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. The British journal of nutrition 2008, 100:890-895.
10. Mink PJ, Scrafford CG, Barraj LM, et al: Flavonoid intake and cardiovascular disease mortality: a prospective study in postmenopausal women. The American journal of clinical nutrition 2007, 85:895-909.
11. Androutsopoulos VP, Papakyriakou A, Vourloumis D, et al: Dietary flavonoids in cancer therapy and prevention: substrates and inhibitors of cytochrome P450 CYP1 enzymes. Pharmacol Ther 2010, 126:9-20.
12. Ramos S: Effects of dietary flavonoids on apoptotic pathways related to cancer chemoprevention. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry 2007, 18:427-442.


Gorillas need greens, not processed food!

The leading cause of death for male gorillas in zoos is heart disease. Sadly, animals that live in close contact with (and fed by) humans end up with human chronic diseases.

Gorillas are the largest of the primates, and they are one of the four species of great apes (great apes make up the Hominidae superfamily, which includes chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas).  Following chimpanzees, gorillas are the closest living relatives to humans, differing in only about 3% of our genetic makeup.

Gorillas are herbivores that live in the forests of central Africa, where they can eat up to 50 pounds of vegetation each day, mostly leaves and fruit. Although most gorillas have a preference for fruit, they also eat large amounts of leaves, plus herbs and bamboo, and occasionally insects. In the wild, gorillas spend most of their day foraging and eating.1

In the wild, gorillas eat an extremely high fiber diet, and derive a significant proportion of caloric energy from the fermentation of fiber by bacteria in the colon, producing short-chain fatty acids. The approximate proportions of macronutrients in a wild gorilla’s diet is 2.5% of calories from fat, 24.3% from protein, 15.8% (non-fiber) carbohydrate, and up to 57.3% from short chain fatty acids derived from bacterial fermentation of fiber.2

In contrast, the standard diet for gorillas in captivity is usually not made up of natural leaves, herbs, and fruits – it is a diet of nutrient-fortified, high-sugar, high-starch processed food.

This unnatural diet has contributed to signs of heart disease and enlarged hearts for both of the male gorillas at the Cleveland Metropark Zoo. Researchers at the zoo and at Case Western University decided to change the gorillas’ diet, bringing it closer to what it would have been in the wild.

Since late 2009, the two gorillas have been eating endive, dandelion greens, romaine lettuce, green beans, alfalfa, apples, and bananas. Each of them eats about ten pounds of vegetables each day. The gorillas also spend more time eating (50-60% of their day rather than 25%), which is similar to wild foraging behavior.  After one year on their new diet, each gorilla has lost about 65 pounds, their health is improving and the researchers are noting and documenting their decrease in heart disease risks.3

My question is: why were they feeding processed foods to gorillas instead of their natural food diet in the first place?

Heart disease and heart attacks are just as unnatural for a gorilla as they are for humans.   I guess it is pretty low for the zookeepers to be feeding a gorilla a processed food diet for convenience that will expedite its death. How could they not know that gorillas should eat a natural diet?   But how did our society develop the universal eating cult that permits and encourages the feeding of disease-causing fast food, processed food and junk food to human kids, damaging their future health potential? I guess maintaining our food addictions to processed foods are a more powerful drive than our desire to have our children be healthy.   Maybe humans should not be in charge of feeding humans or animals? Maybe we should hire the gorillas to raise our children? Did you ever watch the Planet of the Apes? Okay, so maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. 



1. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International: Learning About Gorillas.

Wikipedia: Gorilla

Doran-Sheehy D, Mongo P, Lodwick J, Conklin-Brittain NL. Male and female western gorilla diet: preferred foods, use of fallback resources, and implications for ape versus old world monkey foraging strategies. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2009 Dec;140(4):727-38.

2. Popovich DG, Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, et al. The western lowland gorilla diet has implications for the health of humans and other hominoids. J Nutr. 1997 Oct;127(10):2000-5.

3. Case Western Reserve University (2011, February 21). Gorillas go green: Apes shed pounds while doubling calories on leafy diet, researcher finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/02/110217091130.htm