Nitrate-rich Drink Improves Heart Health in Overweight Teens
One of the major health concerns associated with overweight teens is the negative cardiac or heart implications associated with excess weight. Carrying excess weight, especially excess fat in the abdominal area, is associated with an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Weight loss in overweight or obese teens is usually associated with a reduction in cardiac risk factors. A new study suggests that increasing nitrate levels can also help to improve (cardiac) endothelial function.
If you’re familiar with the treatment of angina, which is a condition marked by severe chest pain caused by inadequate blood flow to the heart, then you know patients typically carry nitroglycerine to use on demand. Nitroglycerine is a vasodilator, meaning it helps to widen blood vessels. When a patient experiences chest pain, they will typically take nitroglycerine to improve the patency of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This will usually help to alleviate the pain. Nitroglycerine is a nitrate, a compound that is credited with blood vessel dilation.
So the findings of the new study are not surprising. In this case, the research funded by the California Strawberry Commission (CSC) looked at the impact of a freeze-dried strawberry powder containing the equivalent of 500 g of fresh-weight strawberries (3 servings) on the vascular health of overweight teens.
The study involved 25 teens ages 14-18, diagnosed as being overweight or obese. They were divided into two groups. One group was given the powdered strawberries to make daily smoothies for a week. The other group received a “control powder.” Markers of vascular health were measured at baseline, and then an hour after consumption of the smoothie daily, in both groups. Improvement of nitrite levels were seen in the group consuming the strawberry powder, soon after consumption, though the benefits were not sustained long term.
Researchers also observed changes in the reactive hyperaemia index – which measures blood flow to different parts of the body – in the group that consumed the powder, while the control group had no change in the index. The index measures endothelial (lining of the arteries) function. Other studies have shown the benefits associated with consumption of many fruits and vegetables, in terms of improved endothelial function. Nitrate content may have been at play.
Produce or other foods containing dietary nitrate may be sources of potent vasodilators, because of the presence of nitric oxide, a by-product of nitrates. Strawberries in particular have higher levels of nitrate compared to other fruits and vegetables. Strawberries are also a good source of polyphenols which may have also contributed to the positive impact on the blood flow seen in the strawberry study.
The researchers offer the one significant limitation to the study. Teen participants said they consumed the smoothies daily, but did not present the empty packets of powder as verification. It’s clear from the study and other research that a diet high in a variety of fruits and vegetables may help provide a number of health benefits, including helping with arterial health. Consuming more fruits and vegetables can also replace less healthy processed foods. This may help teens to reduce their daily calorie load and lose weight.