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Health Benefits of Blueberries Just Keep Coming 

For many years the antioxidant properties of blueberries have been well known. But, Amy Howell, an associate research scientist at Rutgers University and a member of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council’s Health Research Committee, said blueberries are much more than just antioxidants.

“We are finding out that blueberries really are power houses when it comes to health,” Howell said.

Howell said research is showing that blueberry consumption can mitigate the effects of metabolic syndrome, which occurs when someone has three or more of the following risk factors: having a pot belly, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides or low HDL cholesterol. Metabolic syndrome raises the risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

“One in four Americans have this metabolic syndrome, and the prevalence increases with age. If we could show that blueberries reduce these risk factors enough to lower metabolic syndrome, that would get a lot of attention,” Howell said.

One study involving people who were in what is known as insulin resistance, but hadn’t reached the diabetic stage yet, showed a four-fold increase in the ability of insulin to work when people drank two blueberry smoothies a day for six weeks.

“This is phenomenal that blueberries could do this,” she said. “This got a lot of attention and we are following up with additional studies.”

Several studies have shown blueberries can lower blood pressure. And a study done with pigs showed blueberries can lower cholesterol. In that study, blueberries had an even bigger effect when researchers stressed out the pig by adding salt, cholesterol and sugar to their diets.

“So many people eat too much sugar, too much salt, too much cholesterol, so we got excited about this,” she said.

Research with rats has shown blueberries restored the cognitive function of older rats, improving their memory of how to find a maze’s exit.

Other research has shown blueberries have anti-inflammatory properties, which can improve blood flow. Another study showed people who ate three or four servings of blueberries per week had a 34 percent decreased risk of heart attack.

“And this was in young and middle-aged women,” Howell said. “These were healthy people. That is extremely significant and something that we found to be quite stunning.”

The cumulative effect of studies into the benefits of blueberries on metabolic syndrome could significantly enhance the ability of the industry to sell the health benefits of blueberries, Howell said.

“We are currently funding other clinical studies to get additional information in this area that we hope will be positive and be published in good medical journals,” she said. “That would get the attention of physicians, nurses, dieticians and consumers, alike.

“We are hoping that if the results are positive, that we can position blueberries to have their arms around this metabolic syndrome, and I think we could own that,” she said.

“People have done studies here and there that have looked at components of metabolic syndrome, but not the way that we have, so we have a unique opportunity here to help drive additional demand for blueberries,” she said.

Research funded in part by the USHBC also has shown that blueberry consumption may help mitigate certain cancers and improve the functionality of people with Alzheimer’s disease. And USHBC is funding research into whether certain key compounds in blueberries can improve oral cavity health by inhibiting biofilm formation, or plaque, on teeth and gums.

“That is very interesting,” Howell said, “because if it can inhibit biofilm formation, and prevent adhesion of those bacteria that are forming the biofilm, we might have a very interesting new product line of blueberry toothpastes, or lozenges or mouthwashes.”

The research also could have significant health implications, Howell said, given that gums provide what is known as a barrier function for the body’s bloodstream. “The barrier function keeps bacteria that are on your teeth and gums from getting into your bloodstream,” she said.

In general, Howell said, research is showing that blueberries “really stand out among fruits and vegetables at having a significant health benefit.

“We’re seeing a lot of these results with just one cup a day, and it doesn’t matter if it is fresh or frozen,” she added. “Just getting blueberries into your diet can have some amazing benefits.

“However you can get them into your body, do it,” she said.



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