With nearly one in three people in the world dying from heart disease each year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) today launched the 'Atlas of Heart Disease and Stroke', which graphically details this global epidemic.
"No matter what advances there are in high-technology medicine, the fundamental message is that any major reduction in deaths and disability from heart disease and stroke will come primarily from prevention, not just cure," said Dr Judith Mackay, co-author of the Atlas.
Foods designed to tackle heart health are set to grow 7.6 per cent in the UK market, according to Datamonitor, to reach sales of £145 million in the UK alone by 2007. This is second only to gut health in terms of purpose categories.
Ingredients spearing this market cover a wide range. Tea, for example, the second most consumed beverage in the world is believed to lower cholesterol levels and protect against heart attacks.
A recently published Japanese study found that black tea may be healthy for the heart through its action on blood vessels. The small study suggested that the drink dilates the vessels allowing faster blood flow.
Manufacturers of grape extracts or other polyphenol ingredients are enjoying a lift in sales on the back of growing evidence that supports its heart-health promoting properties. The red wine compound resveratrol is thought to be responsible for the protective effects of red wine on the heart.
A recent trial pitching red wine against gin suggests that wine does indeed have heart health benefits over other alcoholic drinks. The study, published in the July issue of Atherosclerosis (175(1):117-23), found that both alcoholic beverages had anti-inflammatory effects but when people drank red wine levels of inflammatory substances were reduced to a much greater extent.
These 'inflammatory' substances are risk factors in the development of heart disease and stroke. The researchers from the University of Barcelona noted that red wine contains many complex compounds including polyphenols that are absent from gin.
A forthcoming EU health claims regulation could force manufacturers of grape extracts or other polyphenol ingredients to run costly clinical trials and submit extensive product dossiers to back their products' health benefits.
"This will enhance the competitive position of those companies that can afford such trials, but companies without sufficient research resources may experience a reduction in marketing opportunities if they are no longer able to claim the health benefits of their products," noted research firm Frost & Sullivan in a recent report.
The company estimates revenues for the overall European polyphenols market in 2003 at $99 million (€77.88m), with antioxidant properties set to position green tea flavonoids, red fruit anthocyanins, grape polyphenols and olive polyphenols at the head of market expansion.
The WHO Atlas was launched to coincide with World Heart Day on Sunday 26 September, the focus of which this year is Children, Adolescents and Heart Disease. Obesity,poor diets, smoking and physical inactivity, the leading causes of heart disease and stroke, are now being seen at an alarmingly early age.