The researchers, led by Dr. Otto Stackelberg of the Karolinska Institute, published their findings in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.
After dividing over 80,000 people between the ages of 46 and 84 years into four groups based on the amount of fruit and vegetable they ate each day, the researchers then embarked on a 13-year follow-up study. During that time, they found that 1,086 people had abdominal aortic aneurysms, 222 of which ruptured.
This type of aortic aneurysm involves a swelling of the lower part of the aorta, the body's main artery. Though rare, the researchers note, it is lethal in many cases. Men in the study accounted for over 80% of aneurysms, ruptured aneurysms included.
Compared with the group who ate the least amount of fruit (less than one daily serving), those who ate the most fruit (over two servings) had a 25% lower risk of developing an aneurysm and a 43% lower risk of one that ruptured.
Fruit juice did not count toward servings in the study.
Additionally, compared with the group who did not eat any fruit at all, the high fruit-eaters had a 31% lower risk of an aneurysm and a 39% lower risk of a ruptured one.
The types of fruits the subjects ate were mainly apples and pears, followed by bananas, oranges and other fruits of the citrus variety.
The researchers say that abdominal aortic aneurysm is often asymptomatic and occurs in up to 4.5% of men over 65 years of age. In women of the same age group, up to 1.3% are affected.
Though ultrasounds have been used for screening the condition, they say these abdominal aneurysms are highly likely to be lethal, citing a mortality risk of 70% before surgery and 35% after.
Stackelberg is happy with the results of the study, adding:
"A high consumption of fruits may help to prevent many vascular diseases, and our study suggests that a lower risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm will be among the benefits."
The authors suggest that the high levels of antioxidants in fruit may be providing the protective effect, through inhibition of oxidative stress, which can encourage inflammation.
Vegetables -- also high in antioxidants -- did not seem to affect the risk level for abdominal aortic aneurysm, possibly because some vegetables lack fruit antioxidants, say the researchers.
Stackelberg adds, "Vegetables remain important for health. Other studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and several cancers."
The American Heart Association gives advice on fruit and vegetables -- adults should eat around four or five servings a day. The organization says following this guideline is an easy way to ensure the intake of important nutrients that most people do not get enough of, such as folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C and K.