Oxidized LDL and coronary heart disease

Part 2: Take antioxidants

It is because fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that we are bombarded with the message that we must eat 5 portions of them each day.

But over the last few years, several studies into the 5-a-day claim have been conducted to test the advice — with disappointing results.

The prestigious CARDIO2000 study published its results in 2003.[1] This study was looking at intakes of fruit and vegetables specifically in relation to acute heart disease. They found that vegetables did reduce the risk of heart disease. But, significantly, it didn't need '5 portions a day' for the maximum effect. In their conclusions the researchers say:

'Our findings support that even low consumption of fruits and vegetables (1-2 servings per week) is associated with about 45% lower coronary risk. Consumption of 2 or more servings per week is associated with about 70% reduction in relative risk.' [emphasis added]

The Daily Mail reported the study's results.[2] The Mail interviewed Professor Sir Charles George, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, about the obvious conflict with the 5-a-day guidelines.

Sir Charles answered 'There is some argument about how much you need; I think five may be an arbitrary figure' — and, by so doing, admitted that this was yet another example of dietary advice which was based on nothing more than guesswork or wishful thinking. So we don't need to eat anything like 5 a day to derive benefits in terms of heart disease.

But is there a benefit in terms of cancer the other major disease it is aimed at? This was considered in another study of over 100,000 people published in 2004. This study, conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, showed that, 'Increased fruit and vegetable consumption was associated with a modest although not statistically significant reduction in the development of major chronic disease' [emphasis added]. They continued: 'The benefits appeared to be primarily for cardiovascular disease and not for cancer.'[3] And concluded:

'Consumption of five or more servings of fruits and vegetables has been recommended . . . but the protective effect of fruit and vegetable intake may have been overstated.'

Not surprisingly, supporters of the '5-a-day' campaign were outraged by the findings, repeating their mantra that eating the recommended number of fruit and vegetables has numerous health benefits — without specifying what those benefits might be.


1. Panagiotakos DB, Pitsavos C, Kokkinos P, et al. Consumption of fruits and vegetables in relation to the risk of developing acute coronary syndromes; the CARDIO2000 case-control study. Nutr J 2003; 2: 2.
2. 'Three fruit and veg are still healthy.' Daily Mail, 2 September 2003, p 8.
3. Hung H-C, Joshipura KJ, Jiang R, et al. Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Risk of Major Chronic Disease. J Nat Canc Inst 2004; 96: 1577-1584.

Part 1: Oxidized LDL | Part 2: Take antioxidants? | Part 3: Or drink coffee? | Part 4: Conclusion

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Last updated: December 9, 2011