Author: Rallie McAllister, M.D., May 3, 2008
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a daily serving of blueberries can help reduce your risk for dozens of debilitating illnesses, including obesity, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Many fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of disease-fighting antioxidants, but recent research suggests that the antioxidants in blueberries, known as anthocyanins, are especially potent.
In the brain and body, anthocyanins neutralize free radicals – highly reactive molecules that can injure cellular components, particularly genetic material. Free radical-induced damage, known as oxidative damage, contributes to the aging process and to the development of disease.
In recent years, blueberries have been elevated to the status of brain food. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the colorful fruit can help prevent – and even reverse – some age-related memory decline.
When researchers from the University of Reading in Pennsylvania and Peninsula Medical School in England supplemented rats’ regular diets with blueberries, they noted dramatic changes in the rodents’ cognitive function. Animals treated with blueberries exhibited an 83 percent improvement on tests of memory within three weeks, and the improvement was maintained for the remainder of the 12-week study.
Although scientists haven’t uncovered the precise mechanism by which blueberries benefit the brain, they’re making progress. It is known that certain chemical compounds in blueberries, called flavonoids, are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.
It is widely believed that blueberry-derived flavonoids may help improve learning and memory by enhancing communication among brain cells. Some experts speculate that these beneficial compounds may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
At the very least, the flavonoids in blueberries exert a strong anti-inflammatory action in the brain. Inflammation is known to play a key role in the progression of Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases of the central nervous system.
Another compound in blueberries, called epicatechin, can help prevent bladder and kidney infections. Research conducted at Rutgers University demonstrated that epicatechin keeps harmful bacteria from latching onto cells lining the urinary tract, thwarting their ability to cause infection.
A number of recent studies suggest that consuming a diet rich in blueberries may help lower blood pressure. University of Maine researchers found that in the presence of stress hormones, the arteries of lab animals fed blueberry-enriched diets remained more relaxed than those of their untreated counterparts.
If you’re in search of something that can improve your health, boost your brainpower and make your taste buds happy, blueberries might be your best bet.
Rallie McAllister is a board-certified family physician, speaker and the author of several books, including “Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom’s Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim.”