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Dear Pharmacist: Lingonberries love blood vessels

Dear Pharmacist: I have high blood pressure and heart disease. I'm worried that I'm not doing enough. Do you have any recommendations? -- K.S., Denver, Colorado

Yes. A brand-new study conducted at the University of Helsinki in Finland found positive benefits from something very cool, but tart. Lingonberries.

They're popular in Scandinavia, but you probably haven't ever tried them, unless you're lucky enough to have a Swedish grandmother who made you pancakes with a side of lingonberry jam. These bright red arctic berries have been around for centuries, and people squeeze them into juice or jam; sometimes they're cooked in stew but they're not eaten raw, because their tartness will make you pucker like cranberries do.

Long ago, Native American Cree people, used the "cowberries," or "partridge berries" in their Canadian homeland, to treat symptoms of diabetes.

The Finnish study, published in June 2011, reported that lingonberry juice can help protect the delicate endothelial lining of blood vessels in lab animals with high blood pressure. This is important because the force of blood under pressure continually slamming into the walls of blood vessels damages the lining of the vessels, making it easier for plaques to accumulate and contribute to a heart attack or stroke.

Researchers found that high levels of certain phytochemicals (most likely flavonols) in lingonberry juice normalized damage to blood vessel linings in the animals.

Does this mean that lingonberry juice will do the same thing for humans? Possibly. There's every reason to take advantage of the health benefits of this juice, and others that are packed with antioxidant power. Antioxidants add a "protection plan" to your body, against everything from the common cold to cancer. I wish I could say that about atenolol, metoprolol, nifedipine, lisinopril or any other drug used to reduce blood pressure. There are hundreds. They simply don't have antioxidant capabilities; I see nothing wrong with combining medication with lingonberry, if your doctor approves.

The Finnish study did not show that lingonberry juice can actually lower blood pressure like medicine, but it might protect those precious blood vessels against the ravages of hypertension and inflammatory chemicals. I mention this only because the new study has been misrepresented online with numerous claims that lingonberry juice lowers blood pressure. To be clear, if you try the juice and don't see reductions in your blood pressure, don't give up -- because you may lose out on the protection it confers to your arteries.

Canadian researchers are finding definite medicinal properties for the treatment of diabetes. Apparently, lingonberries causes a slight reduction in blood sugar. Other studies have confirmed the antimicrobial effect of berries. Lingonberry juice is kind of new to the United States, but can be found in some natural health food grocers and Ikea stores. It's readily available online as a juice concentrate.

Did You Know? Chantix, the anti-smoking pill is now thought to be dangerous for those who already have cardiovascular disease.

This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure your disease. Suzy Cohen is a registered pharmacist. To ask her a question or to learn more about your health, visit DearPharmacist.com.

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