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Berries and pomegranate - the ultimate Valentine's combo?

By Stephen Daniells , 14-Feb-2008

Are berries and pomegranate more appropriate for lovers than flowers and chocolates? Recent studies suggest benefits on heart health and in the bedroom.

Research from around the world has reported lately that the fruit combination could boost heart health, improving sperm mobility, and easing erectile dysfunction - some may argue about removing the romance from Valentine's Day, while others may appreciate the practicalities. A recent study from Finland reported that consuming a mixture of bilberries, lingonberries, black currants and strawberries could lower systolic blood pressure (BP) by 7.3 mmHg, while also boosting levels of HDL 'good' cholesterol by over five per cent. The single-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled intervention trial is published in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 87, pp. 323-331), and adds to an ever-growing number of reports in the literature linking berry consumption to a range of health benefits, including lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and protecting against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. Sales of berries of all shapes and colours have been exploding across global markets, with sales of blueberries, for example, are reported to have rocketed by 130 per cent, raspberry sales are said to have grown by 62 per cent in the last two years, a strawberry sales in the UK are reported to have increased by 34 per cent during the last two years. Pomegranates - heart health and beyond Consumer interest in pomegranate products has also been growing rapidly, with studies supporting the potential heart health benefits of the fruit. A couple of recent studies have also reported some eyebrow-raising benefits, including improvements in sperm health, and helping to manage erectile dysfunction. The health-benefits of pomegranate have focussed almost exclusively on the pulp and juice of the fruit, most notably in fruit form although extracts are also gaining increasing attention. The antioxidant-rich fruit have been linked to improved heart health, and claims that it may offer protection against prostate cancer, Alzheimer's, and may slow cartilage loss in arthritis. A recent study with rats in the journal Clinical Nutrition reported that regular consumption of pomegranate juice may enhance the quality and mobility of sperm, "The results of this study demonstrated, for the first time, that daily consumption of PJ for seven weeks caused increased spermatogenic cell density, epididymal sperm concentration, sperm motility and decreased abnormal sperm rate related with decreased lipid peroxidation in male rats," wrote lead Gaffari Turk from Firat University in Turkey. The Turkish study followed results of a pilot study, which reported that pomegranate juice may help manage erectile dysfunction, is estimated to affect one in 10 men worldwide and 10 to 30 million men in the United States alone. The study, published in the International Journal of Impotence Research (doi: 10.1038/sj.ijir.3901570), reported the findings of a randomised, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover pilot study with 53 male subjects. Forty-seven per cent of subjects reported erections improvements as a result of pomegranate juice, compared to only 32 per cent in the placebo group, reported the researchers from The Male Clinic, Beverly Hills, and University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers proposed the antioxidant content of pomegranate juice as the source of the apparent benefits. These compounds prevent free radical molecules from disrupting proper circulatory function. Consumption of pomegranate juice has been on the rise, particularly in the UK where sales have rocketed in the last year thanks to media coverage of the antioxidant-rich fruit that has commonly been linked to improved heart health, as well as claims that pomegranate could protect against prostate cancer and slows cartilage loss in arthritis. The Valentine's hangover And for those unconvinced by the fruit science, or determined to let chocolate add to the romance of Valentine's Day, berry extracts could offer benefits over the days that follow: A recent study by researchers at the USDA Arkansas Children's Nutrition Center and the University of Arkansas reported that purified forms of extracted anthocyanins from berries may decrease obesity, but the whole fruit doesn't produce the same benefits. The study, performed with mice, was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reported that male C57BL/6J mice consuming a high-fat diet (45 or 60 per cent of calories from fat) and supplemented with the purified anthocyanin extracts from both berries gained significantly less body weight and body fat than the control animals. "The recent findings that anthocyanins could possibly affect the development of obesity, at least in animal models, have generated considerable interest," explained lead author Ronald Prior.

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