Berries in general are usually considered powerful nutrient dense fruits and for good reasons. Most berries such as strawberries, blueberries and raspberries among others are said to be packed with nutrients such as antioxidants, fibers and polyphenols, substances that can help the body to fight inflammation as well as reduced oxidative stress, conditions that are usually associated with the development of common debilitating diseases.
Blueberries, has been purported as a ‘super fruit’ due to its plethora of vital nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and a diverse range of compounds including proanthocyanidins, chlorogenic acid and other flavonoids (Gu L et al. 2004 and Rodriguez-Mateos et al. 2012). One of its main polyphenolic compounds – anthocyanin flavonoids is that which accounts for many of the health benefits of this little purple, bluish fruit. In fact, research suggests that blueberries anthocyanin compounds accounts for about sixty (60%) percent of the total polyphenolics in ripe blueberries (Kalt et al. 2003).
To this extent, this nutritional powerhouse is known in the scientific circles as having the potential to help with brain health due to its cognitive and neurological properties, blood pressure, obesity, among other benefits. In this article, we will explore these and other benefits in a bit more details. Let’s discuss!
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Blueberry is a perennial flowering plant of blue or purple like berries and is classified within the genus Vaccinium, and of the heath family Ericaceae. It is also said to be one of the species that are of commercial importance. Other commercially viable species include, high-bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum L.), rabbiteye blueberry (V. virgatum Aiton), low-bush blueberry (V. angustifolium Aiton), and European bilberry (V. myrtillus L.) (RL, 2006; Tsao R et. al. 2006; Tomás-Barberán et al. 2001). The fruit is said to be native to North America and includes other famous and touted nutrient powerhouses such as cranberries, bilberries and huckleberries.
One of the main reasons for blueberries purported health benefits has to do with the compound – anthocyanins. In fact, blueberry is named as one of the richest sources of this phytochemical among other common fruits (RL, 2006; Tsao R et. al. 2006; Tomás-Barberán et al. 2001).
Anthocyanins are the pigments that confer the red, blue or purple coloration of ripe berries and which provides that visual cue that the fruit is ripe for the picking. To this extent, a growing number of positive scientific evidence from human clinical trials as well as observational researches are proving that this little purple fruit is worth adding to one’s diet.
According to one research, even a moderate intake of blueberries on a regular basis may be able to assist in reducing one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (Wilhelmina Kalt et al. 2020). It is also said to be able to help with weight management and the possible protection of neural functions, particularly of the brain. No wonder it has been popularized over the years as a ‘superfruit’ in the health and wellness sphere.
Nonetheless, with its host of health benefits, reports has purported that its direct antioxidant properties has a poor bioavailability profile (Williamson and Clifford, 2010). To this extent, researchers have been busy exploring ways in which this proclaimed ‘superfruit’ can become even more bioactive and beneficial to human health.
In this article, we will be exploring five (5) of the touted health benefits of blueberries. These benefits include its cardiovascular health possibilities, Obesity, Pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, cognitive health potential as well as blood pressure regulation. We will also explore some of ways in which it can be consumed so as to reap its maximum benefits.
Bioavailability of the Anthocyanins in Blueberries.
According to research, the main phytochemical that is touted for blueberries health benefits is that of anthocyanins. However, studies have shown that anthocyanins are not readily absorbed by humans which have made it difficult for researchers to manage many of its health outcomes.
This is due to the fact that after ingestion, anthocyanins are converted to several other products due to varying chemical activities as well as human microbial metabolism (Czank et al, 2013’ Kalt et al. 2017). As such, absorbability of anthocyanins metabolites will vary among individuals.
In a research conducted by Czank et al (2013), it was found that anthocyanins rapidly degrade within six (6) hours after consumption. However, about 50% of it remains in the body after about forty-eight (48) hours. Further, in a study by Kalt et al. (2014), anthocyanins and their metabolites persist in human urine long after ingestion. This, according to the research, could be due to their transportation through bile (Talavéra S et al. 2003; Vanzo A, et al. 2011).
Notwithstanding, research purports that anthocyanins and their metabolites become localized in the tissue of human and are very abundant in the large intestine (Kay et al. 2009).
Five (5) awesome health benefits of blueberries worth knowing:
- Cardiovascular health.
- Pre-diabetes and Type-2 diabetes.
- Cognitive and Nerve health.
- Blood pressure management.
1. Cardiovascular health and Blueberries
One of the factors that make blueberries a possible positive contributor to one’s cardiovascular health is that of its anthocyanin properties. As such, according to a meta-analysis of over six (6) studies, high intake of anthocyanins have been associated with a reduction in all-cause mortality risk, due largely to its impact on a decreased cardiovascular mortality risk (Grosso et al. 2017) .
This was also confirmed in similar studies conducted by (Goetz ME et al. 2016 and Cassidy et al. 2016). These studies found that a high intake of anthocyanins found in blueberries was associated with a Twenty-five (25%) percent reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease, which include fatal and non-fatal myocardial infarction. Nonetheless, no such link was established between a high intake of anthocyanins and the risk of a stroke (Cassidy et al. 2016; Cassidy et al. 2012).
According to (hopkinsmedicine.org), Myocardial infarction or what is commonly known as heart attack occurs when part of the heart is deprived of the necessary oxygen it needs due to some form of blockage of a coronary artery. Coronary arteries are responsible for supplying the heart muscles (myocardium) with oxygenated blood. Without this needed oxygen, muscles that are served by the blocked artery will begin to die (infarct).
Additionally, the consumption of blueberries was also found to lead to a decline in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, while increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in Fifty-eight (58) diabetic patients of a placebo-controlled study (LI D et al. 2015).
Further, in another study, it was found that the intake of purified anthocyanins over a 12-week period with over One Hundred and Fifty (150) hyper-cholesterolemic patients was found to be associated with an increase in HDL cholesterol and a decrease in LDL cholesterol (Zhu et al. 2015).
2. Pre-diabetes and Type-2 diabetes and Blueberries
Both prediabetes and type-2 diabetes are characterized by the body’s poor response to the stimulation of insulin or insulin stimulation or what is better known as insulin resistance. As such, when the body becomes resistance to the production of insulin, this gives rise to its inability to uptake sufficient glucose and thus the metabolism in insulin-sensitive tissues (Haffner, 1996).
Of all the fruits studied, blueberries were found to provide the strongest impact on a reduction in the risk type-2 diabetes of at least Twenty-six (26%) percent (Muraki et al. 2013). Similar results were also achieved in a Polish cross-sectional study in women. In this study, it was purported that a higher intake of anthocyanins was associated with a reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes (Grosso et al. 2017). It must be noted that these results were experienced in participants who were habitual in the consumption of blueberries of at least two (2) or more times per week.
As such, Jennings et al. (2014) determined that the habitual intake of both anthocyanins and flavones (from certain fruits) were associated with an improvement in insulin resistance, while only anthocyaninns were associated with a decrease in inflammation and a high-sensitivity C-reactive protein.
3. Obesity and Blueberries
A cited major risk factor for cardiovascular disease is that of one being overweight or obese (Gregg et al. 2005). In fact, research has shown that even minor weight gain can increase one’s risk of particular diseases including hypertension (Huang et al, 1998) and cardiovascular disease (Czernichow et al, 2002). In a comparison study of the intake of Sixteen (16) common fruits over a Four (4) year period with both men and women, it was found that blueberries intake was associated with the least weight gain (Bertoia et al, 2015).
This was due largely to its potent flavonoid – anthocyaninns (0.1 kg per 10 mg anthocyanins) which was found to have the strongest association with less weight gain among six (6) other fruits in the study.
Additionally, a greater intake of anthocyanins were associated with 3-9% lower fat mass and less central adiposity in healthy women, particularly twins who were the focus of this study. As such, the twin who consumed more blueberries had a lower fat mass ratio than the co-twin (Jennings, et al, 2017). What made this study even more interested was that the results were independent of genetic and other environmental concerns, which makes it more generalizable among other individuals and not only twins.
4. Cognitive and Nerve health and Blueberries
Neurological and cognitive decline is a situation that has been equated to progressive cognitive functions, especially as one age. Diseases that have been particularly arisen from these conditions are that of Alzheimer, Parkinson disease and other dementia type illnesses. However, research has shown that high intake of blueberries could potentially lower the risk of these degenerative conditions.
This was observed in a study of over One Hundred and Fifty Thousand (150,000) people of Two (2) United States cohort studies. In these studies, it was found that lower Parkinson disease risk was associated with the highest quintile of anthocyanins berry intake (Gao et al. 2012). Additionally, in a study by Devore et al (2012) of over Sixteen Thousand (16,000) women, it was found that high intake of both blueberries and strawberries were associated with a slow rate of cognitive decline in older adults.
The study revealed that the degree of cognitive decline was slowed or delayed of about 2 to 5 years. Further, in a study by Whitmer et al. (2005) and others, it was found that greater anthocyanins intake may be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer-type dementia, particular in old age.
On the reverse, in a twelve-week study by Krikorian et al. (2010), it was found that cognitive performance improved in elderly individuals after the consumption of blueberry or Concord grape juice. Additionally, better multi-tasking and memory interference was found to be improved in healthy older individuals in just after Ninety (90) days of supplementing with blueberry (Miller et al. 2018). However, intake of blueberry powder was found to just have a modest benefit in the performance of memory among Thirty-nine (39) older individuals of the study who had complaint about cognitive issues (McNamara et al. 2018).
Importantly though, just after Twelve (12) weeks of blueberry consumption, better brain activity was found in healthy older adults who were plagued with cognitive challenges (Bowtell et al. 2017).
Cognitive improvements were also observed in children of school-aged in an acute study by Whyte et al. (2015). Another study by Whyte et al. (2016) also found that an improvement in both executive and long term memory were associated with school-aged children’s intake of blueberry powder. Further, Whyte et al. (2017) found that just a single dose of 30-g of blueberry powder enhanced executive memory of children 7 to 10 years of age.
5. Blood Pressure and Blueberries
Research contends that the consumption of blueberry may help to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as improve arterial stiffness which is usually seen in postmenopausal women with pre-and stage 1 hypertension.
This was observed in a double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical trial conducted by Johnson et al. (2014) over an Eight (8) week period where participants, after consuming Twenty-two grams (22g) of frozen-dried blueberry powder mixture, experienced a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. On the other hand, no change was observed in participants who received the control powder.
Additionally, the participants who consumed the blueberry powder also experienced a boost in their nitric acid levels. The researchers concluded that daily consumption of blueberries have the potential of reducing blood pressure as well as arterial stiffness due in part to its ability to increase the production of nitric oxide in the body.
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Here is a summary of five (5) awesome ‘must know’ health benefits of BLUBERRIES.
Let’s Sum Up!
Blueberry or the famed ‘superfruit’ is considered one of the richest sources of anthocyanins among some of the most common fruits including strawberries, blackberries, cherries etc. It is this pigment that has caused blueberries to propel to its acclaimed fame. However, there is evidence behind its stardom, as several research have shown that its anthocyanins may possess the ability to reduce the risk of certain diseases such as those associated with the cardiovascular system, type-2 diabetes, the brain as well as those conditions which are usually associated with Alzheimer’s and other dementia-type diseases.
Additionally, the daily or frequent consumption of blueberries was also shown to be able to help with weight loss and blood pressure management.
Further, while varying versions of the fruit has shown to benefit certain condition. The appetite of scientist continues to grow as it relates to continued human benefits, especially as it relates to the topic of bioavailability. How best it can be consumed so as to achieve maximum benefits?
Blueberries can be found in varying forms such as fresh fruits, frozen fruits, powdered, freeze-dried and supplements. As per supplements, it is best to always follow the manufacturer guidelines as well as consult with your health care provider before intake.
So, with all that was said, will blueberries become a staple or a continued ally in your health and wellness journey? Well, for me, it was and will continue to be.
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