ATLANTA–Dr. Rafaela G. Feresin, assistant professor of nutrition at Georgia State University, has received a $500,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to examine how berries improve cardiovascular function and gut health.
“The preliminary data generated by our lab indicate that blackberry and raspberry prevent the increase in blood pressure induced by angiotensin II, a potent vasoconstrictor,” Feresin said. “Therefore, our goal is not only to further investigate the effects of blackberry and raspberry on blood pressure but also their role on endothelial and cardiac function. Further, we are interested in learning whether the effects of these berries are mediated by favorable changes in the gut microbiota and decreases in systemic and local oxidative stress and inflammation.”
Epidemiological studies show that increased intake of flavonoids, plant metabolites with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in berries, is associated with decreased inflammation, high blood pressure and incidence of cardiovascular disease.
About 85 million Americans suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure), a major modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the world. Several blood pressure-lowering drugs are available to treat hypertension, but they are not without side effects. Therefore, the search for alternative treatments, including dietary strategies, is growing.
“The long-term goal of our research team is to identify and promote safe and effective alternative or complementary nutritional strategies that can improve cardiovascular and gut health,” Feresin said.
The use of blackberry and raspberry to prevent and treat hypertension would make a positive impact on the U.S. agriculture system, increasing the demand for these berries as non-pharmacologic means of improving cardiovascular and gut health and appealing to individuals who may want to try natural methods of regulating blood pressure.
Feresin’s research expertise is on the role of berries and their metabolites in hypertension, oxidative stress and inflammation. Feresin’s co-investigators in this project include Dr. Desiree Wanders, assistant professor of nutrition, whose work focuses on the role of dietary interventions in inflammation, and Dr. Benoit Chassaing, assistant professor of the Neuroscience Institute and Institute for Biomedical Sciences, an expert in the role of gut microbiota in health and disease.