Reasons to eat more blueberries

They are the little blue fruits which put the ‘super’ in superfoods.

Blueberries are jam-packed with health-boosting compounds which have been linked to seemingly endless health benefits.

From the Holy Grail of slowing the ageing process to fighting devastating ailments like heart disease and Alzheimer’s, blueberries have been hailed in numerous studies.

A recent study placed them top of the list when it comes to antioxidant activity – compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Scientists at the US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Center put them top of the crops for mopping up harmful by-products of metabolism in the blood, known as free radicals.

They have been poked, prodded and ripped apart in a series of tests which have also detected other chemicals in the berries which reduce harmful cholesterol levels and even prevent bladder infections.

But while scientists continue to seek out the health boosting qualities, blueberries have even been used to treat the likes of cystitis since medieval times.

Now it seems the old wives knew what they were doing.

* Reduce signs of ageing

Blueberries, along with other colourful fruits and vegetables, contain high levels of antioxidants.

These compounds help to mop up damaging oxygen free radicals in the blood, which can damage cell membranes and DNA through a process known as oxidative stress.

Free radicals cause many of the physical signs of ageing.

*Anti cancer

Recent work indicates that blueberries contain compounds with anti-cancer properties.

They act to induce enzymes that protect against cancer and reduce rapid tumour growth.

Antioxidants also help to prevent or delay the onset of certain diseases, such as cancer.

*Ease the symptoms of Diarrhoea

In Sweden, dried blueberries are used to treat childhood diarrhoea.

Anthocyanoside compounds are believed to kill the E. Coli bacteria, which is sometimes linked to the infection.

*Boost memory

Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that ageing mice who were given blueberry extract improved their balance, coordination and short term memory.

Anthocyanin, which gives the blueberries their strong purple colour, appears to protect the neurons in the brain.

*Help treat bladder 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
Blueberries

*Reduce the risk of heart disease

Blueberries may reduce the build up of so called ‘bad’ cholesterol, or LDL, that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to scientists at the University of California at Davis.

Dr Agnes Rimando, of the US department of Agriculture team said: ‘We are excited to learn that blueberries, which are already known to be rich in healthy compounds, may also be a potent weapon in the battle against obesity and heart disease.’

*Help improve your eyes

Blueberries seem to be able to boost night vision.

One study showed that when Israeli fighter pilots were given regular doses of blueberry, their night vision significantly improved.

Scientists believe that this happens because compounds in the berries enhance capillary elasticity and permeability of the eye.




*Pregnancy

Blueberries are a rich source of folic acid, which may benefit the foetus during pregnancy.

The tiny fruit are also rich in potassium, which is essential for blood pressure control.

High blood pressure during pregnancy can contribute to the pregnancy complication preeclampsia so keeping good blood pressure control is important.

The berries also contain vitamin C, calcium, and other nutrients.

The fibre in blueberries can also stop common conditions in pregnancy including haemorrhoids and constipation

*Help your digestion

The more fibre in your diet, the better your digestive health. Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fibre.

A handful of the berries contain around one tenth of the daily recommended intake of dietary fibre.

Blueberries may help combat dementia and alzheimers

Snacking on blueberries from middle age could prevent dementia developing decades later, scientists say.

Experts told a major US conference that a compound in the berries may strengthen the brain’s defences against Alzheimer’s.

In the absence of effective drugs, a nutritional option ‘represents a potentially potent approach to mitigate risk for late-life dementia’, they said.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect some 850,000 Britons and cost the economy £26billion a year.

With the search for new medicines largely fruitless, despite hundreds of drug trials and billions of pounds of funding, some experts believe more emphasis should be placed on the benefits of a healthy diet.

Candidates include the humble blueberry, a ‘superfood’ already credited with lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.

University of Cincinnati researcher Robert Krikorian (CORR) studied 47 men and women aged 68-plus who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The term covers the slight memory lapses that often, although not always, develop into full-blown dementia.

All were given a placebo powder or one made of freeze-dried blueberries to take once a day for four months.

The blueberry powder been specially made for the study, and one sachet contained the equivalent of a small teacupful of berries.

The volunteers were also put through a battery of mental tests at the study’s start and end, with a focus on memory and thinking skills that are eroded by dementia.

The results showed that the berries seemed to give the ageing brain a boost.

Dr Krikorian said: ‘There was a significant improvement in cognitive function in those who had the blueberry powder, compared with those who took the placebo.’

In addition scans showed the brain was more active in those who had taken the blueberry powder.

The researcher believes the benefits are due to anthocyanins, the plant chemicals that give the berries their deep blue/purple colour.

Blueberries
Blueberries

They are thought to act on the brain in various ways, including boosting blood flow, cutting inflammation, and enhancing the passage of information between cells.

The chemicals may also boost cells’ defences, an American Chemical Society conference heard.

In a second study of people who hadn’t been diagnosed with any memory problems, but simply felt they were becoming more forgetful, the berries also helped boost cognition, although to a lesser extent.




When previous research is factored in, Dr Krikorian, who received funding from the US government, as well as from berry growers, says all the evidence points to blueberries having the potential to prevent the onset of dementia.

He said: ‘Our findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in older adults.’

He now wants to study people in their 50s and early 60s whose weight, blood pressure or other medical condition puts them at higher than usual risk of Alzheimer’s.

But, in the meantime, he advises healthy adults to stock up on blueberries.

And with research suggesting Alzheimer’s may eat away at the brain for decades before symptoms start to show, he says it is important to protect the brain from middle-age.

Dr Krikorian said: ‘I believe that berry supplementation and, in particular, blueberry supplementation, may reduce the risk for late-life cognitive decline.

‘The minimum dose is not clear but data suggest that taking blueberries several times a week should be beneficial.’