Those suffering from a disease that thickens leg arteries and makes walking difficult can see an improvement in their condition simply by consuming more pulse foods such as beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils on a daily basis, according to a new clinical research study conducted in Manitoba.
Researchers at the Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine recently released findings showing persons with a disease called peripheral arterial disease, or PAD, see a major improvement in blood vessel function after eating pulses every day for eight weeks.
The disease affects as many as 10 million North Americans and develops as plaque forms in the vessel walls, thickening and hardening the blood vessels in the legs, making walking painful and increasing risk of heart attack or stroke as much as five times.
Yet, clinical trials conducted in Winnipeg show simply consuming just a half a cup of pulses a day for eight weeks can significantly improve blood flow and decrease that arterial stiffness.
The study findings were presented April 20 at the Experimental Biology conference in New Orleans.
“We were astonished when we saw the results. The improvement in vessel function through diet was much greater than our best expectations,” said study team leader Dr. Peter Zahradka, who conducted the research with University of Manitoba human nutritionist Carla Taylor and Dr. Randy Guzman, a vascular surgeon at St. Boniface Hospital.
The researchers tested blood vessel function by both looking at the ratio of the blood pressure in the ankle versus the arm as well as using pulse wave analysis which assesses the elasticity of the vessels.
“Both of these assessments improved,” said Taylor. Formal tests on study subjects’ ability to walk were not done, but they want to do these tests as well in future, Taylor said.
“A couple of the participants commented that they could walk further (without leg pains or cramping) after being on the study,” she said.
A small, but statistically significant decrease in body mass index (a relationship of body weight to height) was also observed.
“Pulses are quite filling due to their high fibre and lowglycemic index, and thus the slight decrease in the body mass index may be due to greater satiety when consuming pulses,” Taylor said.
Total cholesterol levels, meanwhile, were reduced by five per cent while low-density lipoprotein, also known as “bad” cholesterol decreased 9.5 per cent.
This study shows by adding more pulses to the diet, people can improve their health and reduce the need for expensive pharmaceuticals, Taylor said.
It also adds to a growing body of evidence that pulse foods are indeed healthy foods to be eating. Pulses are easily added to everyday dishes such as soups, stews and casseroles.
Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating, which recommends eating pulses often, shows three-quarters of a cup of cooked pulses is the equivalent of one serving of meat and alternatives.
CCARM is a partnership between the University of Manitoba, St. Boniface Hospital and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and is located in Winnipeg, Canada. The study was one of seven clinical trials funded by Pulse Canada.