(Photo by Maja Petric on Unsplash)

FRESNO, Calif. — Snacking on grapes could prevent a heart attack or stroke, according to new research. Researchers from UCLA say the “superfood” is rich in chemicals that boost gut bacteria diversity and lower cholesterol — leading to better heart health.

Their study found just four weeks of eating grapes led to significant health boosts among people who rarely eat fruit and vegetables. The simple lifestyle change may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the world’s number one killer. Bursting with natural sugars, grapes are also rich in powerful antioxidants that dampen inflammation.

For the study, researchers tracked 19 people between 21 and 55 years-old who consumed the equivalent of about 40 grapes (or two servings) each day. The rest of their diet was relatively low in fiber and plant chemicals (polyphenols) before and during the trial.

Within a month, results show the diversity of their microbiome was higher. This is the community of trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in the gut essential for good health.

Participants also had almost eight percent less “bad” cholesterol. Bile acids (BA), which fuel them, fell by more than 40 percent. These harmful fats can lead to clots that block blood vessels, cutting off blood flow to the heart or brain.

Grapes add healthy bacteria to the gut

Among the beneficial bacteria that increased was Akkermansia. It burns up sugar and cholesterol and strengthens the lining of the intestines.

“We found that grapes have a beneficial effect on gut bacteria, which is great news, since a healthy gut is critical to good health,” says lead author Professor Zhaoping Li in a media release.

“This study deepens our knowledge and expands the range of health benefits for grapes, even as the study reinforces the heart health benefits of grapes with lowered cholesterol,” Prof. Li adds.

Previous research has linked eating grapes with combating cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and boosting libido.

Grapes provide a rich source of polyphenols and fibers,” researchers write in the journal Nutrients.

“In summary, our results provide novel preliminary information about the effects of grape intake on the gut microbiome, host cholesterol, and BA metabolism. These data will assist in the future design of studies to explore the health benefits of grape consumption.”

Cardiovascular disease kills an estimated 17 million people across the world each year, accounting for a third of all deaths.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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