Perth, Western Australia—Flavonoid-rich items can help protect against cancer and heart disease, particularly for smokers and heavy drinkers, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

The study, published inNature Communications,  looked at 56,048 participants of the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health cohort, followed for 23 years, during which there were 14,083 deaths. Flavonoid intake was inversely associated with all-cause, cardiovascular-, and cancer-related mortality, and the associations were stronger and more linear in smokers than in non-smokers and in heavy alcohol consumers vs. low-moderate alcohol consumers.

Dr. Nicola Bondonno, lead researcher of the study, noted in apress releasethat it’s important to consume around 500mg of various flavonoids each day had the lowest risk of a cancer or heart-disease related death: “This is easily achievable through the diet,” she says. “One cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100g of blueberries, and 100g of broccoli would provide a wide range of flavonoid compounds and over 500mg of total flavonoids.”
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The exact nature of the protective effects of flavonoids, Dr. Bondonno said, are yet unclear, but “likely to be multifaceted.” Given that alcohol and smoking both increase inflammation and damage blood vessels, and given that flavonoids have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and improve blood vessel function, the connection makes sense, she says.

That said, Dr. Bondonno offers a word of caution: “These findings are important, as they highlight the potential to prevent cancer and heart disease by encouraging the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, particularly in people at high risk of these chronic diseases. But it’s also important to note that flavonoid consumption does not counteract all of the increased risk of death caused by smoking and high alcohol consumption. By far the best thing to do for your health is to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol.”