Eating a diet rich in antioxidants - mainly derived from fruits and vegetables - could cut the chance of a heart attack by a quarter, according to Swedish researchers.
The results contrast with studies that suggest taking antioxidant supplements, such as vitamin A, C and E pills, has no effect.
The researchers believe that different antioxidant compounds could work together to protect the body in a much more powerful way than taking single large doses can achieve.
Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances, which mop up molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS), better known as 'free radicals.' These prompt inflammation, can damage cells, and have been implicated for triggering cancer and heart disease.
The researchers assessed antioxidant intake by looking at the diets of 30,000 Swedish women aged 49 to 83 at the start of the study
Those with the highest antioxidant intake were 20 per cent less likely to have suffered a heart attack than those with the lowest intake, after statistically adjusting for a host of factors like differences in age, weight, and whether they smoked or exercised.
Women who ate a lot of fruit and vegetables also tended to eat less saturated fat. When the researchers adjusted for intake of fats, the difference in heart attack rates rose to 29 per cent. The study did not look at overall mortality.
Dr Alicja Wolk from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who was the lead researcher, said their research contrasted with tests of single antioxidant supplements, which have largely failed to find evidence that they cut heart attacks or mortality rates.
The results were published in the American Journal of Medicine.