Thick around the middle
Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, including
- abdominal obesity,
- low HDL ("good") cholesterol,
- high triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood),
- insulin resistance (a decreased response of the body's cells to insulin),
- and high blood pressure.
People with metabolic syndrome often have higher-than-normal levels of inflammatory markers and blood clotting substances in the body, and are significantly more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
Berry good for your heart
Dark skinned berries are thought to play a role in heart disease prevention through their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and vessel-protective actions. Certain berries may also increase the secretion of adiponectin, a substance that helps regulate glucose and fat levels in the body.
The aim of the new study was to investigate the effects of Aronia melanocarpa on blood "stickiness" (platelet aggregation), clot formation, and blood fats in people with metabolic syndrome. Thirty-eight people with metabolic syndrome and 14 healthy volunteers took part in the study. For two months, the people with metabolic syndrome took an extract containing 100 mg of Aronia melanocarpa three times per day.
Supplementing with Aronia melanocarpa significantly reduced total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglyceride levels after one and two months, but these values were still higher in people with metabolic syndrome than in the healthy volunteers. There was no change in heart-healthy HDL cholesterol levels.
After supplementing for one month, platelet aggregation was greatly inhibited in people with metabolic syndrome. It also took a lot longer for the platelets to clump together. "This observed effect may have some positive implications for the prevention of coronary incidents related to platelet hyperactivity frequently observed among patients with metabolic syndrome," commented lead study author, Joanna Sikora of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Drug Analyses, Medical University of Lodz, Poland. Similarly, there was a substantial decrease in the blood clotting potential after one and two months of Aronia supplementation.
More to learn
While the results of the new study are promising, they are still preliminary and need to be replicated in future trials using a placebo for comparison. For now, it remains important to do what we already know works to help prevent metabolic syndrome. Here are some tips:
- Get active. Physical exercise helps you lose weight, lowers blood pressure, increases insulin sensitivity, and increases HDL ("good") cholesterol levels.
- Don't smoke. Quitting smoking improves insulin sensitivity and decreases the risk of heart disease.
- Lose weight. Eat a heart-healthy diet--including plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and fiber-rich whole grains and legumes--to help you lose weight and maintain healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Weight loss also helps with insulin resistance and boosts energy levels so you can do the things you want to do.
- Eat more blueberries: Recent studies have shown that people who eat blueberries may have less abdominal fat, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and improved insulin sensitivity. Plus blueberries taste great. Throw a few on your morning oatmeal or blend some up in a smoothie.
(Eur J Nutr 2011;doi:10.1007/s00394-011-0238-8)