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A research team from Oxford College in Great Britain found that healthy adults who consumed at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily, which is the amount recommended in the United States and the United Kingdom, had lower blood pressure than adults who consumed fewer servings during a six-month period.
On a population level, the reduction in blood pressure observed in the study would translate into a 17 percent reduction in the rate of high blood pressure, a 6 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease and 15 percent fewer strokes, the research team reported.
The team said the findings support previous research that showed that fruits and vegetables boost levels of disease-fighting antioxidants in the blood and reduce blood pressure in the short term.
To investigate the longer-term effects of this type of diet, the research team assigned nearly 700 adults between the ages of 25 and 64 to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables daily (one serving equals one medium-sized piece of fruit or a half cup of cooked vegetables). Individuals who took vitamin pills were not included in the study, the team noted.
During the next six months, levels of certain antioxidants, including vitamin C and beta carotene, increased in the group of adults who were encouraged to boost their fruit and vegetable intake, but did not increase in the other group, the team found. There were no changes in body cholesterol levels, but the systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the first and second numbers in a blood pressure reading) of the adults who consumed more vegetables dropped, according to the findings.
"The fall in blood pressure achieved in our study in unlikely to be attributable to fat intake or changes in physical activity," said Dr. Andrew Neil. "They suggest that a higher intake of potassium, which is abundant in many vegetables and is associated with lower blood pressure, may be the reason. Lower levels of sodium may also contribute to the benefits."
Neil said the effects of this type of intervention of fruit and vegetable consumption also is expected to reduce cardiovascular disease in the adult population.