By Curtis Sheppard
From research labs all across the country and the world, there is growing evidence that blueberries could be powerful little disease fighters. Here is what we have learned so far…
Antioxidants – Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have found that blueberries rank #1 in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful by-products of metabolism called “free radicals” that can lead to cancer and other age related diseases.
Anthocyanin — the pigment that makes the blueberries blue — is thought to be responsible for this major health benefit.
Anti-Aging – In another USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) lab, neuroscientists discovered that feeding blueberries to laboratory rats slowed age-related loss in their mental capacity, a finding that has important implications for humans. Again, the high antioxidant activity of blueberries probably played a role.
Disease Prevention – Blueberries may reduce the build up of so called “bad” cholesterol that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to scientists at the University of California at Davis.
Antioxidants are believed to be the active component.
Prevention of Urinary Tract Infections – Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have identified a compound in blueberries that promotes urinary tract health and reduces the risk of infection. It appears to work by preventing bacteria from adhering to the cells that line the walls of the urinary tract.
Blueberries and Eyesight – A number of studies in Europe have documented the relationship between bilberries, the European cousin of blueberries and improved eyesight. This is thought to occur because of the anthocyanin in the blue pigment which is also available in the blueberry. One study in Japan documented that blueberries helped ease eye fatigue.
Cholesterol Reducing Blueberries – At the recent American Chemical Society meeting it was reported that a compound found in blueberries called pterostilbene has “the potential to be developed into a nutraceutical for lowering cholesterol, particularly for those who do not respond well to conventional drugs,” reports foodnavigator.com (8/24/04). Study authors from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service(ARS) indicate that the compound found in Vaccinium berries could be a “potent weapon in the battle against obesity and heart disease through its cholesterol-reducing potential.” Head researcher, Agnes M. Rimando and her associates “earlier showed that this compound may help fight cancer.” An abstract of the study is found on the Agricultural Research Service website which also studied the presence of resveratrol and piceatannol . According to the technical abstract, “These naturally occurring stilbenes, known to be strong antioxidants and to have cancer chemopreventive activity, will add to purported health benefits derived from consumption of these small fruits.”
Nutrition Summary – The following summarizes some of the published research in the area of nutraceuticals and health.
The belief that food products have medicinal properties has been celebrated in folk medicine for centuries. Today food properties are being explored by the medical and scientific fields. Some cultures have long valued many naturally occurring substances believed to have preventative and therapeutic value. In the United States, nutraceuticals are part of a rapidly expanding area of biomedical research, generating considerable interest among consumers, manufacturers, and regulators alike. This is a progressive area; the field is continually conducting studies and discovering possible benefits.
Though blueberries themselves are not a cure-all, they contain a number of substances which are thought to have health benefits. These substances include, but are not limited to fructose, fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Antioxidants thus far, seem to have the most conclusive role in the prevention/ delaying of such diseases as cancer, heart disease and the aging process however, a limited number of studies, especially long term and on human beings, are not available at this time.