As one of the few fruits native to the North American continent, blueberries were an important part of the Native American diet for hundreds of years. Today, these beneficial berries rank second only to strawberries in terms of the most popular berry consumed.
The benefits of blueberries have been well-documented in scientific literature. They are known to have one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits, vegetables and seasonings. These powerful antioxidant properties help to combat dangerous free radicals that can damage cells and DNA.
Recent research provides new insight into the benefits of these popular berries, particularly in four critical areas of health:
1. Reduction in risk factors leading to atherosclerosis, stroke and heart attack
Elevated LDL (also known as the “bad” cholesterol), along with low HDL (the “good” cholesterol), and high triglycerides, homocysteine, and glucose are known to be some of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis. Research now published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition found the blueberry supplementation in mice with hypercholesterolemia reversed these risk factors. The findings have implications for humans facing risk factors during the aging process.
Total cholesterol was reduced by 29 percent. Bad cholesterol was about 34 percent lower while good cholesterol was as much as 40 percent higher. Both the control group and experimental group were fed a high-fat diet for six weeks, but the experimental group was fed a blueberry extract in the last two weeks of the trial before measurements were taken.
The study also showed triglycerides, a type of fat that accumulates in normal cells turning them into fat cells, was reduced by nearly 50 percent. In addition, homocysteine, an amino acid that causes inflammation in artery walls, was reduced by half.
2. Nourishing the brain
A number of studies have confirmed that blueberries contribute to overall brain health. Research is now also indicating that blueberries can reduce some of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, including accumulation of plaques in the brain, believed to be a contributing factor of the disease.
A recent mouse model study for Alzheimer’s found that providing a supplement consisting of blueberries coupled with omega-3 and phosphatidylserine reduced the amount of dangerous plaque formed after seven months. Oxidative stress indicators were also reduced.
There was also an increase in certain neurotransmitters that facilitate the transmission of impulses between neurons. This is good news, since deficiency in this type of neurotransmitter has been linked to development of Alzheimer’s disease, while medications developed to address the situation have unfavorable side effects.
3. Giving a boost for balance and mobility
Many factors potentially contribute to a loss of mobility during the aging practice, including obesity, a slowing down of physical activity, neuronal impairment, and the effects of chronic illnesses, like diabetes and arthritis. When lack of mobility becomes severe, it can lead to further complications, such as incontinence, which can then increase the risk of skin infection or urinary tract infection.
But research published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism showed that when elderly study participants suffering from poor mobility were provided with two cups of blueberries a day for six weeks, the improvement in movement was significant, particularly in steadiness of gait. This is particularly critical, since steadiness is linked to risk of falling.
Those consuming the blueberries also showed increased speed in movement with fewer errors in stepping and better overall foot placement. This group also exhibited improved balance.
4. Blueberries protect the retina, safeguarding sight
Over the years, light-induced damage can cause debilitating damage to the eye and vision, such as age-related macular degeneration, one of the primary causes of blindness in the elderly population. Excessive light damage leads to oxidation of fatty acids, compromising health as well as retinal cells.
But research shows supplementation with blueberries reduced lipid peroxidation, even with daily visible light exposure. This protective action can help safeguard the retina, reducing the incidence of blindness.
Choose blueberries carefully for healthiest results
Because blueberries are so popular, you are likely to find them in a lot of forms. Unfortunately, you will also find that they are frequently served highly processed and with added sugars.
As with other foods, the best way to consume blueberries for the greatest health benefits is to eat them in organic, raw form either as a whole berry or as a pure organic powder. Not only will you reap the greatest nutritional benefits, but you will enjoy the berries at their most flavorful!