In a new study, an international team of researchers analyzed data from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health cohort that monitored the diets of 53,048 Danes over 23 years, and found that people who habitually consumed moderate to high amounts of foods rich in flavonoids — a class of polyphenolic compounds found in abundance in plant-derived foods and beverages such as fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, and red wine — were less likely to die from cancer or heart disease.
“While the study found a lower risk of death in those who ate flavonoid-rich foods, the protective effect appeared to be strongest for those at high risk of chronic diseases due to cigarette smoking and those who drank more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day,” said study lead author Dr. Nicola Bondonno, a scientist in the School of Medical and Health Sciences at Edith Cowan University and the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Western Australia.
“These findings are important as they highlight the potential to prevent cancer and heart disease by encouraging the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, particularly in people at high risk of these chronic diseases.”
“But it’s also important to note that flavonoid consumption does not counteract all of the increased risk of death caused by smoking and high alcohol consumption. By far the best thing to do for your health is to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol.”
“We know these kind of lifestyle changes can be very challenging, so encouraging flavonoid consumption might be a novel way to alleviate the increased risk, while also encouraging people to quit smoking and reduce their alcohol intake.”
Participants consuming about 500 mg of total flavonoids each day had the lowest risk of a cancer or heart disease-related death.
“It’s important to consume a variety of different flavonoid compounds found in different plant based food and drink,” Dr. Bondonno said.
“This is easily achievable through the diet: one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100 g of blueberries, and 100 g of broccoli would provide a wide range of flavonoid compounds and over 500 mg of total flavonoids.”
While the research had established an association between flavonoid consumption and lower risk of death, the exact nature of the protective effect was unclear but likely to be multifaceted.
“Alcohol consumption and smoking both increase inflammation and damage blood vessels, which can increase the risk of a range of diseases,” Dr. Bondonno said.
“Flavonoids have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and improve blood vessel function, which may explain why they are associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer.”
“The next step for the research was to look more closely at which types of heart disease cancers were most protected by flavonoids.”
The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Nicola P. Bondonno et al. 2019. Flavonoid intake is associated with lower mortality in the Danish Diet Cancer and Health Cohort. Nature Communications 10, article number: 3651; doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-11622-x