Red Grapefruit Joins the Fight against Heart Disease

Healthnotes Newswire (April 27, 2006)—Recent research has discovered a good reason for people fighting coronary artery disease to head to their grocery produce section: Eating red grapefruit helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in people who already have heart disease.

The leading cause of death in the United States and an epidemic in other Western countries, coronary artery disease is a condition in which the vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle become hardened and narrowed with plaques, greatly increasing heart attack risk.

A family of drugs known as statins is commonly used to treat high cholesterol and high triglycerides, as these substances play an important role in plaque formation. If the arteries become too blocked, advancing the disease, coronary artery bypass surgery may be necessary to allow blood to flow around one or more blocked coronary arteries.

The best way to prevent coronary artery disease is to exercise regularly and eat a diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fiber, and fish fat. The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are believed to be largely due to their high content of vitamin C and other antioxidants. Grapefruit is a good source of vitamin C, and the colorful red grapefruit also contains pigments that are powerful antioxidants.

The current study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, looked at the effect of eating grapefruit on cholesterol and triglyceride levels in people with coronary artery disease. In addition to eating a low-fat, high-fruit-and-vegetable diet for the 30 days, the 57 participants were randomly assigned to eat one red grapefruit per day, one yellow or “blond” grapefruit per day, or no grapefruit. People in both of the grapefruit-eating groups experienced significant drops in both total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Triglyceride levels only dropped in the group that ate red grapefruits.

“Addition of fresh red grapefruit to generally accepted diets may be beneficial for [people with high cholesterol levels, and] especially those with high levels of triglycerides,” the researchers said in their conclusion.

The researchers performed other tests to compare red and blond grapefruits and found that the red grapefruit had higher levels of specific antioxidant chemicals and that people who ate them had higher antioxidant levels in their blood than the people who ate blond grapefruit.

“The beneficial effects of eating grapefruit seem to be due in part to pectin, a type of fiber that is found in grapefruits,” said Alan R. Gaby, MD, chief science editor at Healthnotes.

These findings are particularly interesting because the study participants already had advanced coronary artery disease. They had all undergone bypass surgery a year or more before enrolling and had high triglyceride levels that were not responding to treatment with statin medications. These medications were not used during the 30-day grapefruit trial.

The study results do not tell us whether red grapefruit, through its effect on cholesterol and triglycerides, can reduce the number of heart attacks in people with coronary artery disease, or whether red grapefruit can protect people who do not already have the disease.

People who want to take grapefruit to prevent coronary artery disease should keep in mind that grapefruit is known to interfere with body’s ability to metabolize a number of medications, so people taking medications should consult their doctor before drinking grapefruit juice or eating large amounts of fresh grapefruit.

(J Agric Food Chem 2006;54:1887–92)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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