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Blueberries Are Good For Your Cholesterol and Your Colon

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Blueberries

Photo: Blueberries

Blueberries are known to be excellent source of vitamin C and good source of dietary fiber.  But what I didn’t know is that it also helps to prevent and fight colon and ovarian cancer.  This is what I’ve found during my research:

Origins and Historical use
Folk Medicine
Culinary uses
Health benefits
Research
Negative effects / allergies
References

Origins and Historical use

Blueberries, also known as bilberries, whortleberries and hurtleberries, are named for their velvety, deep-blue color. It is one of the few fruits native to North America. They have a special pigment which makes them one of few human foods that are naturally colored blue. True wild blueberries are only found in North America. For centuries, blueberries maintained popularity in the United States, with a thriving commercial business in the northeastern United States and Canada.

For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the forests and the bogs by Native Americans and consumed fresh and also preserved. The Northeast Native American tribes revered blueberries and much folklore developed around them. The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent “star berries” to relieve the children’s hunger during a famine. Native Americans used the berries, leaves, and roots for medicinal purposes, and made a strong aromatic tea from the root. The fruit juice was used as a dye for fabrics and baskets. Leaves are high in tannins and were once used to tan leather.

Folk Medicine

The earliest recorded use of blueberry for medicinal purposes dates from the Middle Ages, and it has been used in European folk medicine since the 16th century. Blueberries were prominent in Russian folk medicine, and was used as a preventative measure and cure for flux and other abdominal problems. Native Americans used blueberries for medicinal purposes along with the leaves and roots. A tea made from the leaves of the plant was thought to be good for the blood and it was used as a relaxant during childbirth, and also for sore mouth. Blueberry juice was used to treat coughs.

The dried fruit, as-is or in decoction form, have been used to relieve diarrhea; also a tincture of the berries and a decoction of the root has been used for diarrhea as well as for other bowel complaints. The root and the berries were once bruised then tinctured in gin to use as a diuretic, and for treatment of urinary tract stones. The leaves have been used to help regulate blood sugar in borderline diabetes and hypoglycaemia. Both a decoction of the leaves and the seedcoats of the berries have been used in diabetes treatment. The Downy Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) was once used by Canadians for diabetes. They also used a decoction of the leaves (2 or 3 cups daily) for inflammation of the genito-urinary tract (especially cystitis), childhood incontinence, enteritis, dysentary, skin diseases, pruritis, and eczema.

A tea of the root was used by Native Americans as an antispasmodic for cramps, hiccups, colic, cholera morbus, epilepsy and hysterics. Berries were used for scurvy, diarrhea, dropsy, and bilious fevers. The Chippewa dried the low bush blueberries and placed them on hot stones; the fumes were inhaled to drive out madness. During World War II, British Royal Air Force pilots consumed bilberries (a blueberry relative), which purportedly improved their night vision. Later studies show a sound basis for this practice because blueberries are high in bioflavonoids which are used by the rods in the eye for night vision.

Culinary uses

The berries can be eaten raw, but are also added to fruit salads, pancakes, waffles, muffins, cakes, breads, pies, ice cream, and yogurt or cooked in various desserts. They are also cooked up to make thick sweet toppings for desserts, such as crêpes and cheesecake. Blueberries can also be cooked with sugar syrup to produce jams and jellies.

The Native Americans used blueberries in many ways. The Iroquois mashed blueberries fresh, then made them into cakes and placed them on basswood leaves to dry, or cooked them to preserve them. These cakes along with dried berries were also used as trail food by their hunters. The Chippewa often combined the dried berries with moose fat and/or deer tallow. The Menomini dried the berries along with sweet corn then ate them sweetened with maple sugar as a special dish. The Flambeau Ojibwe cooked the berries with wild rice and venison, and also made a sweet bread with them.

The colonists learned from Native Americans how to gather blueberries, dry them under the summer’s sun and store them for the winter. In time, blueberries became an important food source and were preserved, and later canned. A beverage made with blueberries was an important staple for Civil War Soldiers. In the 1880s a blueberry canning industry began in the Northeast USA. In food preparation, dried blueberries were added to stews, soups and meats. The dried berries were also crushed into a powder and rubbed into meat for flavor. A beef jerky called Sautauthig, was made with dried blueberries and meat and was consumed year round.

Health benefits

Many studies have been done about the health benefits of blueberries. Blueberries are known to aid in fighting aging, improving memory and learning, lowering cholesterol, improving vision, improving gastrointestinal health, preventing macular degeneration, improving brain function, preventing and fighting cancer (colon, ovarian), preventing urinary tract infection, aiding in weight loss, acting as a sleep aid, and in fighting osteoporosis.

Blueberries are an excellent source of vitamin C. A serving contains about 14 mg or almost 25% of daily requirement for Vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed for the formation of collagen and to maintain healthy gums and capillaries. Vitamin C also aids in the absorption of iron and promotes a healthy immune system. Blueberries are a good source of dietary fiber. A diet high in fiber contributes to heart health, helping to keep cholesterol in check. Fiber also aids in digestions and helps maintain regularity. Blueberries are also an excellent source of manganese. Manganese plays an important role in the development of bones and in the metabolism of protein, carbohydrate and fat.

Blueberries contain substances that have antioxidant properties. According to the USDA database of the antioxidant activity of selected foods (ORAC values), blueberries rank among the highest on a per serving basis. The antioxidant capacity of blueberries is 6,552 micromoles TE/100g. Substances in  blueberries called polyphenols, specifically anthocyanins that give blueberries their blue color, are the major contributors to the antioxidant activity of blueberries.

Research

Blueberry research has become more and more popular because of the results it is getting and the perceived health benefits of blueberry. Scientific studies over the last decades are pointing to the fact that blueberries are a simple way to fill up on essential antioxidants. Recent scientific research by USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University have shown that blueberries are one of the top fruit in antioxidant activity compared to over 40 other fruits and vegetables.

Antioxidant activity: Blueberries are powerful antioxidants. They contain naturally occurring antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E.  Blueberries contain 14 mg of Vitamin C and 0.8 mg Vitamin E per 1 cup of blueberries.  In addition, blueberries contain anthocyanins and phenolics that can also act as antioxidants. Packed with antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, blueberries neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins, the blue-red pigments found in blueberries, improve the integrity of support structures in the veins and entire vascular system. Anthocyanins have been shown to enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and stabilize the collagen matrix (the ground substance of all body tissues).

The oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay was used to measure both lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities in fruits, including blueberries, vegetables, nuts, dried fruits, spices, cereals, infant, and other foods. Total antioxidant capacity (TAC) was calculated1,2 by combining lipophilic ORACFL and hydrophilic ORACFL values. Cultivated blueberries had a TAC of 62.20 ?mol of TE/g or 9019 ?mole of TE/1 cup serving. When the foods were categorized into four groups ranked by their hydrophilic ORACFL per serving values, blueberries ranked in the top quartile.

The antioxidant activities of selected phytochemicals and fruit extracts were evaluated3 using the CAA assay, and the results were expressed in micromoles of quercetin equivalents per 100 micromol of phytochemical or micromoles of quercetin equivalents per 100 g of fresh fruit. Quercetin had the highest CAA value, followed by kaempferol, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), myricetin, and luteolin among the pure compounds tested. Among the selected fruits tested, blueberry had the highest CAA value, followed by cranberry > apple = red grape > green grape.

Blueberries and Aging: James Joseph, Ph.D., and his team at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston report that a diet of blueberries may improve motor skills4,6 and reverse the short-term memory loss that comes with aging and age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s. USDA animal trials showed improved navigational skills after a two-month diet of blueberry extract. Although other fruits and vegetables were studied, only blueberries were effective in improving motor skills. Neuroscientists discovered that feeding blueberries to laboratory rats slowed age-related loss5 in their mental capacity, a finding that has important implications for humans.

Anti-inflammatory activity: Researchers have shown that blueberries contain pterostilbene, anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, resveratrol, flavonols, and tannins, which inhibit mechanisms of cancer cell development and inflammation in vitro. They also contain a compound called ellagic acid, which blocks metabolic pathways that can lead to cancer.

Researchers believe that the phytochemicals in blueberries may reduce inflammatory processes in tissues by increasing cell membranes’ ability to allow vital nutrients and chemical signals to pass in and out of the cell. Dr. James Joseph, Ph. D., from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging has been studying the anti-inflammatory potential7 of the polyphenols in blueberries, since chronic inflammation at the cellular level is at the heart of many degenerative age-related diseases. When rats with neuronal lesions were fed a blueberry-supplemented diet, not only did they perform better in cognitive tests, the concentration of several substances in the brain that can trigger an inflammatory response was significantly reduced. The polyphenols in blueberries appear to inhibit the production of these inflammatory mediators.

Anti-cancer effect: In vitro research carried out in 2001 at the University of Mississippi found that blueberry extracts slowed the growth of two aggressive cervical cancer lines8 and two fast-replicating breast cancer cell lines. A 2005 study at the University of Georgia demonstrated blueberry extract’s ability to inhibit cell proliferation9 in two separate lines of colon cancer cells, reducing by more than 50% the rate at which the cells otherwise multiplied. Researchers concluded that phenolic compounds in blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and bring on apoptosis.

Pterostilbene: Blueberries contain the phytosterol, pterostilbene, which is similar to resveratrol, another antioxidant found in grapes and red wine. Pterostilbene is thought to share the same mechanism of action as fibrates, which are a class of cholesterol lowering medications that lower LDL (low density lipoprotein, the bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. Pterostilbene is also known to possess anti-inflammatory activity and also induces apoptosis in various types of cancer cells10,11.

At a 2004 meeting of the American Chemical Society it was reported that a compound found in blueberries (pterostilbene) could be a “potent weapon in the battle against obesity and heart disease through its cholesterol-reducing potential.” The results obtained so far seem to be positive. In studies conducted in rats, pterostilbene effectively lowers cholesterol12. Because it is specific for a particular receptor (PPAR-alpha), it is thought that this could lower the side effects seen with other fibrates. Additionally, previous studies have indicated that pterostilbene is an effective anti-diabetic agent13, 14.

Urinary Tract Health and Vision Health: Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have identified a compound in blueberries that promotes urinary tract health and reduces the risk of infection15. It appears to work by preventing bacteria from adhering to the cells that line the walls of the urinary tract. Research around the world has indicated that the anthocyanin content in blueberries may improve night vision16 and prevent tired eyes.

Heart Health: A blueberry-enriched diet may protect the heart muscle from damage17 according to scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and the National Institute on Aging. In this study blueberries appear to act as both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in animal models. New research shows that blueberries may support cardiovascular health. A research team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada led by Wilhelmina Kalt, Ph.D., found that blueberry supplementation reduced plasma cholesterol levels.18

Negative effects / allergies

Blueberry fruit is likely safe for most people. Blueberry shares a few specific properties with other known allergens, such as stone fruits. People with an allergy to stone fruits, cherries and peaches for example, may be more sensitive to blueberry. Blueberry extracts and supplements could cause some potential side effects. One possible side effect of the use of blueberry extract is a laxative effect at high doses. Chronic use or one-time high doses of blueberry supplement could damage the kidney and liver. Esophageal and mouth cancers are possible with overdose as well.

Special precautions and warnings: Although blueberry supplements have been suggested as useful to treat diabetes, the anthocyanosides in blueberry interact with insulin and with other diabetic medications. Research has revealed that consuming blueberries can normalize blood sugar levels. Diabetics and people using medicine to lower blood sugar should speak to a doctor before taking a blueberry supplement, which may enhance the effect of some diabetes medicines.

Studies have shown European bilberry to enhance the effect of some medications which thin the blood such as aspirin, warfarin, heparin and NSAID pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Considering the similarities between bilberry and blueberry, it is advisable to consult with your doctor before taking a blueberry supplement if you use blood thinners. Blueberry might affect blood glucose levels and could interfere with blood sugar control during and after surgery. Stop using blueberry at least 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery. Increased use or use of blueberry extracts and supplements should only be done after proper consultation during pregnancy and breast-feeding.


References

 

  1. Wu X, Beecher GR, Holden JM, Haytowitz DB, Gebhardt SE, Prior RL. “Lipophilic and hydrophilic antioxidant capacities of common foods in the United States,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2004, 52:4026-4037
  2. Zheng W, Wang SY. “Oxygen radical absorbing capacity of phenolics in blueberries, cranberries, chokeberries, and lingonberries,” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2003, 51:502-509
  3. Wolfe KL, Liu RH. Cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay for assessing antioxidants, foods, and dietary supplements. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Oct 31;55(22):8896-907.
  4. Joseph JA, Denisova NA, Arendash G, Gordon M, Diamond D, Shukitt-Hale B, Morgan D. Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Jun;6(3):153-62.
  5. Duffy KB, Spangler EL, Joseph JA, et al. A blueberry-enriched diet provides cellular protection against oxidative stress and reduces a kainate-induced learning impairment in rats. Neurobiol Aging. 2008 Nov;29(11):1680-9.
  6. Brewer GJ, Torricelli JR, Lindsey AL, Kunz EZ, Neuman A, Fisher DR, Joseph JA. Age-related toxicity of amyloid-beta associated with increased pERK and pCREB in primary hippocampal neurons: reversal by blueberry extract. J Nutr Biochem. 2010 Oct;21(10):991-8.
  7. Shukitt-Hale B, Lau FC, Carey AN, Galli RL, Spangler EL, Ingram DK, Joseph JA. Blueberry polyphenols attenuate kainic acid-induced decrements in cognition and alter inflammatory gene expression in rat hippocampus. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Aug;11(4):172-82.
  8. Wedge DE, Meepagala KM, Magee JB, et al. Anticarcinogenic Activity of Strawberry, Blueberry, and Raspberry Extracts to Breast and Cervical Cancer Cells. J Med Food. 2001;4(1):49-51
  9. Yi W, Fischer J, Krewer G, Akoh CC. Phenolic compounds from blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Sep 7;53(18):7320-9
  10. Pan MH, Chang YH, Badmaev V, Nagabhushanam K, Ho CT. Pterostilbene induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in human gastric carcinoma cells. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Sep 19;55(19):7777-85.
  11. Suh N, Paul S, Hao X, Simi B, Xiao H, Rimando AM, Reddy BS. Pterostilbene, an active constituent of blueberries, suppresses aberrant crypt foci formation in the azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis model in rats. Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Jan 1;13(1):350-5.
  12. Kim H, Bartley GE, Rimando AM, Yokoyama W. Hepatic gene expression related to lower plasma cholesterol in hamsters fed high-fat diets supplemented with blueberry peels and peel extract. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Apr 14;58(7):3984-91.
  13. Vuong T, Benhaddou-Andaloussi A, Brault A, Harbilas D, Martineau LC, Vallerand D, Ramassamy C, Matar C, Haddad PS. Antiobesity and antidiabetic effects of biotransformed blueberry juice in KKA(y) mice. Int J Obes (Lond). 2009 Oct;33(10):1166-73.
  14. Martineau LC, Harris C, Haddad PS, et al. Anti-diabetic properties of the Canadian lowbush blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium Ait. Phytomedicine. 2006 Nov;13(9-10):612-23.
  15. Schmidt BM, Howell AB, McEniry B, Knight CT, Seigler D, Erdman JW Jr, Lila MA. Effective separation of potent antiproliferation and antiadhesion components from wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium Ait.) fruits. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Oct 20;52(21):6433-42.
  16. Liu Y, Song X, Han Y, Zhou F, Zhang D, Ji B, Hu J, Lv Y, Cai S, Wei Y, Gao F, Jia X. Identification of anthocyanin components of wild Chinese blueberries and amelioration of light-induced retinal damage in pigmented rabbit using whole berries. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Jan 12;59(1):356-63.
  17. Ahmet I, Spangler E, Shukitt-Hale B, Juhaszova M, Sollott SJ, Joseph JA, Ingram DK, Talan M. Blueberry-enriched diet protects rat heart from ischemic damage. PLoS One. 2009 Jun 18;4(6):e5954.
  18. Kalt W, Foote K, Fillmore SA, Lyon M, Van Lunen TA, McRae KB. Effect of blueberry feeding on plasma lipids in pigs. Br J Nutr. 2008 Jul;100(1):70-8.