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You could soon lick your way to a healthier heart. From Italy, the home of ice cream, comes a study showing that frozen desserts rich in polyphenols may improve vascular function and exercise performance.
Polyphenols, found in cocoa, nuts and red wine, are known to be the most abundant antioxidants in our diets and to protect cells against free radical damage. Epidemiological studies have reported inverse correlations between polyphenol intake and CVD, mortality and stroke.
Behind this study lay the hypothesis of Valerio Sanguigni and colleagues from the University of Rome Tor Vergata that an ice cream recipe rich in polyphenols would improve heart health. ‘Our objective was to develop a popular food product guaranteeing daily intakes of antioxidants which could be taken by both healthy and sick subjects,’ explained Sanguigni.
The study recipe contained cocoa and hazelnuts with other organic ingredients. Using the Folin-Ciocalteu colorimetric method, they demonstrated that total polyphenol content was 1817 mg/100g in the antioxidant ice cream compared to 96 mg/100g in the control milk chocolate ice cream.
Fourteen healthy subjects were randomised to a treatment sequence with a single dose of 100 g natural antioxidant ice cream or milk chocolate ice cream, and then crossed over with a one week washout period between the two phases.
Results showed that flow mediated dilation (a direct marker of nitric oxide bioavailability and vascular health) increased from 2.55 at baseline to 6.3 after the ice cream (p<0.001). No significant change was found for subjects eating the milk chocolate ice cream.
The exercise test showed an improvement of physical performance demonstrated by reductions in the double product of heart rate and systolic blood pressure, which decreased from 26.055 at baseline to 21.50 after eating the antioxidant ice cream. Again, no significant changes were found after eating milk chocolate ice cream. A photometric test showed antioxidant ice cream also significantly reduced levels of plasma hydroperoxides, providing an indirect measure of reduction of oxidative stress.
‘Our results show for the first time that antioxidant ice cream improved vascular function in healthy subjects and increased physical performance,’ said Sanguigni. ‘Habitual use of antioxidant ice cream could offer a new therapeutic approach for preventing CVD, chronic degenerative diseases and ageing.’ His group now plans to give antioxidant ice cream to patients with hypertension and metabolic syndrome.
Programme number P6480. Natural antioxidant ice-cream improves vascular function and exercise performance in healthy subjects.
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