Newly Discovered Benefits of Blueberries
Blueberries have been found to improve mobility in the elderly, which can play a significant role in reducing the risk of life-threatening falls.9
Published research reveals that blueberries favorably impact cells throughout our bodies. Ingestion of blueberry polyphenols facilitates critical DNA repair needed to maintain youthful cell integrity.1-8
This Research Update describes recent studies that confirm broad-spectrum benefits associated with blueberry polyphenols.
Enhanced Mobility in Frail Elderly
As we age, we tend to lose mobility due to factors such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and neuronal impairment, along with chronic diseases like arthritis or diabetes.9 This lack of mobility in the elderly is often accompanied by other disorders including incontinence, which can lead to a greater risk of a urinary or skin infection.10
A study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that when elderly subjects with poor mobility consumed two cups of blueberries a day for six weeks, they showed significant improvement in their movement.11
The researchers observed the most improvement in their gait, or manner (steadiness) of walking. As one ages, the gait test is especially important because it measures the risk of falling.12 Over 700,000 Americans a year are hospitalized due to injuries caused by a fall.13
In the study, those who consumed the blueberries for six weeks had increased speed, fewer step errors, better foot placement,and improved balance on the gait test compared to the control group.9
This human study clearly demonstrated how blueberry ingestion can protect against age-related loss of psychomotor function.
Reduction in Arterial Plaque
Some of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis include elevated LDL, low HDL, and high triglycerides, homocysteine, and glucose.14-17
A study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition evaluated the effects of blueberry supplementation on mice with hypercholesterolemia to determine if blueberries could reverse these risk factors for cardiovascular disease.18
Study researchers observed a significant difference in the outcome between a control group and mice given the highest dose of blueberry extract. Both groups were fed a high-fat diet containing pig grease and corn oil for six weeks. The experimental group was fed a blueberry extract for the last two weeks.
At the end of six weeks, total cholesterol in the mice that received the blueberry extract was approximately 29% lower. LDL (bad cholesterol) was approximately 34% lower in the mice given blueberry extract while HDL (good cholesterol) was close to 40% higher.18
Triglycerides are a type of fat that accumulates inside normal cells turning them into fat cells (adipocytes). Homocysteine is a deleterious amino acid that causes inflammation on artery walls. Remarkably, the study revealed that both triglycerides and homocysteine were reduced by almost 50% in the blueberry extract-supplemented group compared to controls.18
These findings have implications for aging humans who have risk factors for atherosclerosis.
Light-induced damage can lead to debilitating ocular conditions such as age-related macular degeneration,19 a major cause of blindness in the elderly population.20 Part of what happens when there is excessive light damage is the oxidation of fatty acids that compromise health and threaten retinal cells.
Researchers evaluated the impact that daily visible light exposure had on retinal fatty acids and then assessed the benefits of supplementation with blueberries and their impact on lipid peroxidation. In this study, blueberries were shown to reduce lipid peroxidation, confirming their protection to the retina.21
Blueberries and Nutrients for the Brain
Over the years, numerous studies have shown blueberries support overall brain health.1-3,22-25 Significant results reveal that blueberries can reduce many of the risk factors for Alzheimer’s, such as the aggregation of beta amyloid and oxidative stress. 25,26
When beta amyloid plaques accumulate in the brain, they interfere with the cell-to-cell signaling of neurons, which is believed to be a main cause of Alzheimer’s. This build up begins growing in the hippocampus (part of the brain that stores memory), and if left untreated, spreads to other areas of the brain.27
A recent mouse model for Alzheimer’s disease evaluated the brain support provided by blueberries in combination with omega-3 and phosphatidylserine. Two-month-old animals were divided into three groups—a control group, a group given a low-dose supplement, and a group given a high-dose supplement.28
After seven months, the control group developed an increase in the number and volume of amyloid plaques as expected. Conversely, mice in the low and high-dose supplement (blueberry, phosphatidylserine and omega-3) groups showed fewer plaques, suggesting that the nutrient combination can provide protection against the development of amyloid plaques. Markers of oxidative stress were also decreased in the supplemented mice. 28
A noteworthy result was that the mice who received the nutrient combination (blueberry, phosphatidylserine, and omega-3) showed an increased amount of acetylcholine,28 which is a neurotransmitter that facilitates the transmission of impulses between neurons.
Acetylcholine deficiency has been linked in the development of Alzheimer’s.29,30 The drug donepezil (Aricept®), for example, is a widely used drug to treat Alzheimer’s that works by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. This type of medication may reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but is accompanied by unfavorable side effects.31,32
Note: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
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