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Strawberries, blueberries may reduce heart attack risk in women

Heart attacks may have met their match in the form of a bowl of berries.

A new study found that women who ate three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries every week for almost 20 years dramatically reduced their risks for having a heart attack.

"Blueberries and strawberries can easily be incorporated into what women eat every week," study author Eric Rimm, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Mass., said in a written statement. "This simple dietary change could have a significant impact on prevention efforts."

Heart attacks are a major concern among women, with recent research finding women are more likely to die from heart attacks than men. The American Heart Association (AHA) says women may be more likely to experience other heart attack symptoms besides chest pain that may be harder to pick up, such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., the culprit behind 1 in every 4 female deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blueberries and strawberries, which are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, may help reduce risk, according to the new study, published Jan. 14 in the AHA's journal, Circulation.

Dietary flavonoids are also found in grapes and wine, blackberries, eggplant, and other fruits and vegetables, according to AHA. A particular type of flavonoids called "anthocyanins," may improve blood flow, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other heart health benefits, the study's authors report.

Researchers surveyed 93,600 female nurses between 25 and 42 who were part of a long-running study in which nurses filled out questionnaires about their diets every four years for 18 years.

Out of the large study pool, only 405 heart attacks occurred. Women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries were found to be 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack, compared to women who ate berries once a month or less. That was found true even for women who ate diets rich in fruits and vegetables, but not those two berries.

The study was observational, meaning it did not show a direct cause-and-effect relationship between berries and heart attack protection; the link was simply observed by researchers after ruling out other factors that may contribute to heart attacks.

One expert backs the study's findings.

"This class of foods helps to dilate the arteries and reduce inflammation of the arteries, therefore reducing heart attack rates," Dr. Mary Ann McLaughlin, an associate professor of cardiology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the new research, told CBS News' Teresa Garcia (watch her explain more in the video above).

The American Heart Association supports eating berries as part of an overall balanced diet that also includes other fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products. Other ways women can reduce their heart risks include regular exercise, reducing stress, avoiding smoking (and second-hand smoke, which has been shown to increase risk) and reducing salt-intake.

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