A Finnish study has looked at the heart health benefits associated with 26 antioxidant nutrients from the Flavonoid group (part of the Polyphenol family of antioxidants). Flavonoids are found
in certain fruits and vegetables, in tea, coffee, red wine and cocoa. Sub-classes of flavonoids include flavonols, flavones, flavanones, flavan-3-ols and anthocyanidins.

Antioxidants are one of the body’s defence against ‘free radicals’, which are small molecules generated during normal metabolic processes. Excessive free radical production
causes damage to cells and their components, including cell genetic material, and is thought to have a key role in the ageing process and in many degenerative and age-related diseases.
Antioxidants act by ‘mopping up’ free radicals in cells, thereby limiting the damage they can cause. Antioxidant nutrients, such as those found in fruits and vegetables, are known
to lower the risk of heart disease. However, it is not clear how different types of antioxidants perform.

Using carotid artery diameter as an indication for heart health, researchers tried to find out if flavonoid consumption was an important dietary factor in the development of heart disease.
Medical examinations and dietary assessments were carried out on 1400 middle-aged Finnish men as part of the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.

The average intake of flavonoids was 128 mg per day. After adjusting for other factors that could influence heart health (e.g. fat body levels, smoking, alcohol, dietary fat and vitamin
intake), men with the lowest intakes of flavonoids tended to have the worst carotid artery diameter and, thus, the greatest risk of heart disease.

Out of the different flavonoid subclasses, flavan-3-ols performed the best. These tend to be found in apples, red wine and cocoa. The researchers concluded that a high intake of flavonoids
could be protective against heart disease.

For more information see
Mursu J et al (2007) The intake of flavonoids and carotid atherosclerosis: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study. British Journal of Nutrition, Apr 30, 1-5 [Epub ahead of print].

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