A Florida State University researcher is examining how the polyphenol compounds found in blackberries could be used to help fight the buildup of artery plaque.
Gloria Salazar, associate professor of nutrition, has received $805,409 from the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program at the Florida Department of Health to look at the protective effects of polyphenols, bioactive compounds known for their strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that are found in many fruits and vegetables.
“We know that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, can be really beneficial to the cardiovascular system,” Salazar said. “But we don’t know if we can use this diet in some way to reduce the effects of specific cardiovascular problems.”
Studies have shown that people who eat diets rich in fruits and vegetable are less likely to have cardiovascular disease, which is largely attributed to the polyphenol content of these foods. However, it is unknown whether this diet could reduce vascular aging, a cellular process — often brought on by smoking — that in the long term leads to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the buildup of plaque in the walls of arteries obstructing the flow of blood.
Salazar has already conducted preliminary studies in mice showing that a diet supplemented with blackberries reduces atherosclerosis. These preliminary results have shown the potential impact of this work, but researchers still have many more questions about how polyphenols could be used to promote cardiovascular health.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide. A 2015 American Heart Association report found that lifestyle behaviors, like smoking, lack of exercise and poor diet are major contributing factors of death and disability due to cardiovascular disease.
“We are excited about the idea that perhaps concentrated extracts of these berries will work as a therapeutic intervention for people with smoke-related diseases,” Salazar said. “Our idea is to use nutrition as a long-term preventative measure against chronic diseases. Can we harness diet and medicine together for better outcomes?”