A diet rich in total antioxidants, especially from fruits and vegetables, can greatly reduce the risk of heart attack in women, according to a new study in The American Journal of Medicine.

This particular study was the first to focus on the effects of all dietary antioxidants and their connection to heart attacks. Total antioxidant capacity calculates all antioxidants present in diet and the cooperative effects that take place between them, into one single value.

This study followed 32,561 Swedish women between the ages of 49 and 83 from September 1997 through December 2007. Participants filled out a food-frequency questionnaire, during which they were asked, on average, how often they consumed each type of food or beverage during the past year.

Researchers calculated an approximation of total antioxidant capacity from a database that measures the oxygen radical absorption capacity (ORAC) of the most common foods in the United States (Swedish equivalent does not exist). The women were divided into five separate groups based on total antioxidant capacity of diet.

Throughout the study, 1,114 women suffered a heart attack. Women with the highest total antioxidant rate had a 20 percent lower risk than the women with the least total antioxidant rate. The group with the highest total antioxidant rate also consumed three times as many fruits and vegetables as the lowest antioxidant rate group, about 7 servings per day, compared with their 2.4 servings.

Lead investigator Alicja Wolk, DrMedSci, Division of Nutritional Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, explains:

“In contrast to supplements of single antioxidants, the dietary total antioxidant capacity reflects all present antioxidants, including thousands of compounds, all of them in doses present in our usual diet, and even takes into account their synergistic effects.”

Pamela Powers Hannley, MPH, Managing Editor of The American Journal of Medicine analyzed this study and suspects as the US food industry develops, Americans are starting to eat more calories from processed food, loaded with fat and sugar. This causes obesity rates to climb, even with plenty of weight loss programs available. She urges ample servings of fruits and vegetables to become a more common reality in the diets of all Americans.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald