Fruit-heavy diet may prevent against dangerous aneurysm

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09: A selection of fruit including apples and pears is displayed on a judging bench at the RHS (Royal Horticultural Show) London Harvest Festival Show on October 9, 2012 in London, England. Growers from across the UK come together for the show at the RHS Horticultural Halls in Westminster to exhibit their seasonable bounty in the annual fruit and vegetable competition. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Getty Images

It's no secret that a diet full of fruits and vegetables can boost your health and may stave off chronic disease.

Now, researchers are reporting eating fruits in particular may protect against an uncommon but deadly aneurysm that develops in the abdomen.

An aneurysm is an abnormal ballooning of a portion of an artery caused by weakness in the wall of a blood vessel. Common locations these occur include the brain and the heart's major artery, the aorta.

The aorta is about as thick as a garden hose, according to the Mayo Clinic, and runs from the heart through the center of the chest and abdomen. An abdominal aortic aneurysm occurs when the ballooning of the blood vessel occurs in the lower part of the aorta. Aneurysms grow slowly over many years and people may not show symptoms, but if an abdominal aortic aneurysm, life-threatening bleeding may ensue.

Previous research suggests eating fruits and vegetables may boost vascular health, so the researchers sought out to see if produce prevented these aneurysms.

For the study, researchers split more than 80,000 Swedish men and women into four groups based on how many fruits and vegetables they ate, from the least to the most.

They were tracked for 13 years, and autopsy records showed nearly 1,100 people had abdominal aortic aneurysms, including 222 whose aneurysms ruptured. More than 80 percent of the cases were in men.

The researchers found those who ate the most fruits -- which amounted to about two servings a day or more, excluding juice -- were 25 percent less likely to have an abdominal aortic aneurysm and 43 percent less likely to have one rupture compared to those who ate less than one serving of fruit.

Those in the quartile with the highest fruit intake were 31 percent likely to have an aneurysm and 39 less likely to have a rupture compared to people who ate no fruit at all.

The most commonly eaten fruits were apples and pears, followed by bananas, oranges and other citrus items. Vegetables, however, were not associated with lower risk.

"A high consumption of fruits may help to prevent many vascular diseases, and our study suggests that a lower risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm will be among the benefits," study author Dr. Otto Stackelberg, a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Environmental Medicine's Nutritional Epidemiology Unit at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, said in a press release. "Other studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and several cancers," he added, emphasizing vegetables remain important to health. Also essential is never smoking or quitting if you already do smoke, said Stackelberg.

The American Heart Association, the publisher of the journal this study is featured in, Circulation, says adults should eat about four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day to get important nutrients including folate, magnesium, potassium and dietary fiber, as well as vitamins A, C, and K.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm can be spotted on an ultrasound, and doctors may track a small one over time to see if it expands. Aneurysms can form in anyone, but are most common in men over 60 who have at least one risk factor including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, emphysema, obesity, genetic factors or are smokers.

Symptoms of a tear or rupture include severe and sudden abdominal pain, clammy skin, dizziness, rapid heart rate, nausea, vomiting and shock. You should see a doctor if you start experiencing symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic has more information.

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