The Global Burden of Disease Study, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is the most comprehensive and systematic analysis of causes of death undertaken to date, involving nearly 500 researchers from more than 300 institutions in 50 countries, starting out with almost 100,000 data sources.
- S S Lim, T Vos, A D Flaxman, G Danaei, K Shibuya, et al. A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990–2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2012 Dec 15;380(9859):2224-60.
These scientists determined that in the U.S. the #1 killer was our diet. #1 on their list of the most important dietary risks? Not eating enough fruit, responsible for an estimated 4.9 million deaths a year around the world.
- US Burden of Disease Collaborators. The state of US health, 1990-2010: burden of diseases, injuries, and risk factors. JAMA. 2013 Aug 14;310(6):591-608.
The Union of Concerned Scientists laid it out. A set of dangerous, often lethal, illnesses continues to wreak havoc in the United States.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans laid to waste. Yet there is a straightforward way to reduce the rates of these eminently preventable disorders, including stroke and heart disease. One antidote for individuals is easy, painless—even pleasurable: exploit the protective benefits of fruits and vegetables.
If Americans increased their consumption of fruits and veggies just to meet the dietary recommendations, that alone could save the lives of over 100,000 people every year in the United States. That’s if we just reach the minimum.
One way may be because of their antiplatelet effects. Platelets are what trigger the blood clots that cause heart attacks and most strokes. But beyond their obvious function in blood clotting, platelets are now considered to play a pivotal inflammatory role in the hardening of the arteries in the first place, as well as allergies, rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer.
Now it’s important to realize that normally, under healthy conditions, platelets circulate in a quiescent, dormant, inactive state. But once they become activated they can emerge as culprits in inflammation. Platelets transport a vast amount of inflammatory chemicals. Upon activation, they release these chemicals, which can recruit the inflammatory cells that form the pus pockets within our arterial walls that can burst and kill us.
- P Das, U Samarasekera. The story of GBD 2010: a
- A K Dutta-Roy. Dietary components and human platelet activity. Platelets. 2002 Mar;13(2):67-75.
- N Alexandru, D Popov, A Georgescu. Platelet dysfunction in vascular pathologies and how can it be treated. Thromb Res. 2012 Feb;129(2):116-26.
This involvement of platelet activation in atherosclerosis development is well established. We’ve long recognized the platelet’s role in the final stages, however, a growing body of data indicates that platelets may also play an important role in the initiation and propagation of atherosclerosis in the first place, which is our nation’s leading killer.
Wine and Veggies
Well, it’s generally recognized that platelet hyperreactivity is associated with high levels of cholesterol circulating in the blood, so we can cut down on foods that have trans fats, saturated fats, and dietary cholesterol, and we can eat more fruits and vegetables. For example, different varieties of strawberries have shown a significant antiplatelet effect in a petri dish and in people.
- J M Alvarez-Suareza, F Giampieria, S Tulipanic, T Casolid, Giuseppina Di Stefanoe, A M González-Paramás, C Santos-Buelgaf, F Buscog, J L Quilesh, M D Corderoi, S Bompadrej, B Mezzettib, M Battinoa. One-month strawberry-rich anthocyanin supplementation ameliorates cardiovascular risk, oxidative stress markers and platelet activation in humans. J Nutr Biochem. 2014 Mar;25(3):289-94.
Because resting and activated platelets look so different you can just take blood from people and count how many are resting and how many are activated before and after people eat more than a pint of strawberries every day for a month, and there’s a small but significant drop in the percentage of activated platelets circulating throughout their bodies after the strawberries.
Other berries had a similar effect, and at a more modest two servings a day. Drinking orange or grapefruit juice didn’t seem to help, but purple grape juice successfully reduced platelet activity on the same order that aspirin does.
- J G Keevil, H E Osman, J D Reed, J D Folts. Grape Juice, But Not Orange Juice or Grapefruit Juice, Inhibits Human Platelet Aggregation. J Nutr. 2000 Jan;130(1):53-6.
Studies have shown daily aspirin can reduce heart attacks and strokes, however, aspirin can also cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances and bleeding problems, so should not be used for the primary prevention of heart attacks and stroke, as the benefits don’t clearly outweigh the serious risks, so it’s nice to have safe, side-effect free alternatives.
Healthier Food, Healthier Hearts: The Surprising Numbers
Here are some of the more eye-opening findings from the report:
- Medical costs of treating heart disease and stroke were estimated at $94 billion in 2010, and this figure is projected to nearly triple by 2030.
- If Americans ate just one more serving of fruits or vegetables per day, this would save more than 30,000 lives and $5 billion in medical costs each year.
- If Americans were to follow current USDA recommendations for daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, those numbers would go up to more than 127,000 lives and $17 billion saved.
- According to methods commonly used by economists, the increased longevity that would result if Americans ate the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables is worth over $11 trillion.
- J K O’Hara. The $11 Trillion Reward: How Simple Dietary Changes Can Save Lives and Money, and How We Get There. Union of Concerned Scientists Equation Blog. Aug 2013.