15 key advantages that are the stepping stones to improving your overall health and well being.
The ancient Greeks believed that what the Gods ate and drank bestowed them with immortality. It was perceived that Ambrosia could regenerate scars, cure diseases, raise people from the dead, and even banish death.
While we are yet to discover such an Elixir of life, but we do have wondrous fruits that could well be the gifts from the Gods prodding us in that direction. In the list of such miraculous gifts, there is no worthier than Blueberries.
Amongst the numerous health benefits of blueberries, this article highlights 15 key advantages that are the stepping stones to improving your overall health and well being.
15 Health Benefits of Blueberries
1. Blueberries are Very High in Nutrients
Blueberry growing goes back to the beginning of the 20th century in the United States and Canada ( 1).
The blueberry plant is a perennial flowering shrub, mostly grown in North America. Considered a superfood, the high anthocyanin content makes it the richest source of antioxidants.
Anthocyanins are pigments that give blueberries their red, blue and purple color. As the berry ripens, anthocyanin content increases to provide a visual cue that distinguishes the ripe berry from the unripe berry.
The Nutritional Content of 1 cup of raw blueberry (148 grams):
- Calories: 84.4 kcal
- Total carbohydrate: 21.4 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 3.6 grams
- Vitamin A: 79.9 IU
- Vitamin C: 14.4 mg, 24 percent of the RDI (recommended daily intake)
- Vitamin K: 28.6 mcg, 36 percent of the RDI
- Folate: 8.9 mcg
- Phosphorus: 17.8 mg
- Potassium: 114 mg
- Sodium: 1.5 mg
- Manganese: 0.5 mg, 25 percent of the RDI
Berries are low in calories and high in moisture and fiber. Natural antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E, micronutrients such as folic acid, calcium, selenium, alpha, and beta carotene and lutein are also present making them one of the most nutritious fruits ( 2). It’s very low sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat content makes it the best choice ( 3).
The large quantities of bioactive compounds have placed the blueberry high on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). This index rates foods based on their nutrient contents, including vitamin and mineral content, phytochemical composition, and antioxidant capacity.
Summary: Blueberry is a plethora of phytonutrients that put it on top of the ANDI list, making it one of the healthiest fruits available. Its antioxidant capacity, high amount of essential vitamins and minerals makes it ‘the superfood’.
2. Blueberries are Packed with Antioxidants
Antioxidants present in the diet have a crucial effect on the prophylaxis and progression of the diseases that are associated with oxidative stress.
The natural pigment, anthocyanin, present in blueberry is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants ( 4). It is a flavonoid that protects and strengthens the veins, vessels, and cells in the body.
Blueberries are also rich in resveratrol, which is a flavonoid that protects against inflammation and anti-aging. Blueberries have shown to increase the antioxidant level in the blood when consumed ( 5).
In addition to the above-mentioned antioxidants, blueberries contain a diverse range of phenolic compounds such as quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, and chlorogenic acid which contributes to the antioxidant capacity of blueberries.
There is strong evidence that the antioxidant in this berry protects protein, lipid, and nucleic acid against the oxidative damage of the free radical, which plays a major role in cancer, heart diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases ( 6).
Summary: Blueberry contains the highest antioxidant in comparison to most of the fruits and vegetables. This protects us from degenerative diseases by fighting off the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.
3. Blueberries May Inhibit the Growth of Cancer Cells
The functional ingredients that are present in blueberries give the best health benefits. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and the phytonutrients that are there in blueberries function as powerful antioxidants that inhibit tumor growth, decrease inflammation and help avert or slow down cancers, such as prostate and colon cancers ( 7).
The folic acid in blueberries prevents the formation of cancer cells due to mutations in the DNA. In a study in 2017, it was seen that extracts of blueberries can successfully reduce the tumor size in mice, which in turn inhibited the proliferation of ovarian cancer.
The presence of flavonols and tannins in blueberry extracts had the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer-causing cells by 50% ( 8).
Another 2016 study, stated that the anthocyanin fraction present in blueberries also increased the death of cancerous cells by 2–7 times. Such protective effects were especially observed in the case of colon cancer ( 9).
During cancer, the state of inflammation and oxidative stress increase at a tremendous rate. At this stage, there is a huge generation of free radicals. Under these circumstances, a diet that is rich in antioxidants is required that can scavenge these free radicals. It will inhibit the deterioration caused.
Summary: Blueberry can definitely be said to be the perfect fruit for cancer pertaining to its high antioxidant content. Functional ingredients in blueberry can prevent cancer by inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, reduce inflammation and scavenge the free radicals that cause oxidative stress.
4. Blueberries May Aid in Fat Loss
Obesity and obesity-related morbidity are emerging as a global health issue in recent years. In 2014, WHO estimated that around 13 percent of the world’s total population is obese.
“Obesity can be defined as an abnormal accumulation of fat in adipose tissue, because of the imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure” ( 10).
Over the years, studies have been reported that anthocyanins in blueberries might play an important role in mitigating obesity by decreasing weight and adipose tissue build up.
Studies have found that the anthocyanin from the blueberry is associated with anti-obesity functions. It can inhibit insulin signaling in adipocytes, thereby reducing the insulin glucose uptake and reduce glycerol release in adipocytes ( 11).
Summary: Blueberry is considered to have anti-obesity functions. Amongst the several mechanisms associated with it, its effect on the improved glucose control seems to do the trick.
5. Blueberries May Protect From Neurodegenerative Diseases
Epidemiological studies have confirmed that regular flavonoid-rich fruit intake is associated with delayed Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ischaemic diseases, and aging effects ( 12).
Phytochemicals in berries have a beneficial role in brain aging and neurodegenerative disorders because of their antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-proliferative properties.
Inflammation of the brain cells is believed to play a crucial role in the development of neurodegenerative diseases, especially due to the increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Because of the low activity of antioxidant defense systems, the brain is prone to oxidative stress more than any other organ ( 13).
Moreover, many neurotransmitters are autoxidized to generate ROS. The polyphenols that are present in the blueberries can cross the blood-brain barrier and directly scavenge the ROS.
Blueberries improve memory, learning, and general cognitive functions. They have also shown to improve short term memory and motor coordination ( 14).
Summary: The polyphenols in blueberries reduce the oxidative stress in the brain thereby protecting it from aging and neurodegenerative disorders. It has shown to improve general cognitive functions and short term memory.
6. Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Blueberries
When the body is under a consistent pro-inflammatory state, chronic diseases get an environment to develop and progress. These are commonly the cardiovascular diseases, diabetes type 2, cancer and Alzheimer’s amongst many ( 15).
Intake of blueberries has shown a marked decrease in the occurrence of such diseases. The phenolic acids (6.6%), flavonoids (12.9%) and procyanidins ( 2.7%) in blueberry have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory activity ( 16).
High anthocyanins in blueberries can increase the anti-inflammatory cytokines and reduce oxidative stress ( 17).
In a 2014 study, it was confirmed that blueberry, which is a very good source of anthocyanin, is the most promising fruit for its anti-inflammatory properties and can be used for the development of nutraceuticals ( 18).
Summary: The phenolic acids, flavonoids, and procyanidins in blueberries have anti-inflammatory activity and several studies have confirmed the strong effect. It can increase the cytokines in the body that reduces oxidative stress.
7. Anti-Diabetic Property of Blueberries
In the recent past, insulin resistance has become a public health concern. It can occur in the pre-diabetic stage much longer before it progresses to Type 2 diabetes mellitus ( 19).
“Insulin resistance is defined as inefficient glucose uptake and utilization in peripheral tissue in response to insulin stimulation”. In the pre-diabetic stage, insulin resistance is a characteristic of glucose intolerance which includes impaired fasting glucose, and impaired glucose tolerance ( 20).
For many years, blueberries have been a folk remedy for type 2 diabetes in Canada ( 21). Studies have confirmed that blueberry can reduce vascular complications in diabetes. Intake of blueberries has shown to directly benefit people with insulin resistance.
In a 2006 study done with Canadian lowbush blueberry, it was found that the intake of this superfruit enhanced the proliferation of pancreatic beta-cells (that are responsible for insulin secretion) ( 22).
Oxidative stress plays a crucial role in diabetes. However, anthocyanin in blueberry can protect the beta cells in the pancreas against glucolipotoxicity and can prevent diabetes ( 23).
Inflammation in the adipose tissue promotes insulin resistance and other complications, but dietary intake of blueberry has been seen to avert this. The anthocyanin in blueberry can improve the postprandial glucose response.
Pre-clinical and clinical studies have found improvements in insulin resistance and glucose tolerance after blueberry consumption in obese and insulin-resistant people ( 24).
A 2013 cohort study published in the BMJ suggested that consuming three servings per week of blueberries reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 7 percent ( 25).
Summary: The anti-diabetic property of blueberry is because of the crucial role it plays in the beta cells of the pancreas. It not only reduces its glucolipocity but also increases this cell proliferation, thereby improving insulin secretion.
8. Blueberry May Protect From Liver Diseases
Liver damage may be caused due to increased exposure of the liver to toxins, chemicals, drugs, and alcohol. This may further lead to fibrosis of the liver or even liver failure. Oxidative stress is one of the primary factors for liver cell damage.
Research has shown that whole blueberry, as well as blueberry juice, are very effective in keeping your liver healthy. Regular blueberry consumption improves the activity of the enzymes that protect the liver against damage. These antioxidant enzymes are superoxide dismutase and catalase ( 26).
It is found that proanthocyanidins that are present in blueberry leaves are able to inhibit the replication of the hepatitis C virus. Research has also shown that drinking blueberry juice reduces reactive oxygen species in the liver and improves the structure and function of the liver ( 27).
In liver fibrosis, the structure of the liver changes and as the disease progresses, the liver hardens. Blueberry juice reduces the progression of the disease and thus lowers the level of liver enzymes that have increased due to fibrosis. Certain proteins that bind heavy metals and also scavenge harmful free radicals from the liver thus protecting the liver, is also found in blueberries.
Summary: Blueberries can protect the liver with its antioxidant activity and also work on certain liver enzymes thereby lowering the progression of liver fibrosis. It scavenges free radicals and ensures good liver health.
9. Blueberries May Help Protect Against Heart Disease
Polyphenols, anthocyanins, and flavonoids in blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity in comparison to any other fruits and vegetables.
One of the greatest reasons for the development of heart disease is reactive oxygen species (ROS). Therefore, it is very important to control the production of ROS. The antioxidant property of blueberry has shown to do that and prevent its development.
Excessive buildup of a compound known as homocysteine in the body can damage blood vessels and lead to heart problems. Vitamin B6 and folic acid in blueberry also prevent the buildup of this compound.
According to a study, regular consumption of anthocyanins in blueberries can reduce the risk of heart attack by 32 percent in a young and middle-aged woman ( 28).
Blueberry enriched diet was seen to improve the overall health of cardiac cells and reduce the inflammatory cells to nearly half. In a diseased condition, the ejection fraction (the amount of blood pumped by the heart during each contraction) also increased which was otherwise not the case in the diseased heart. This, in turn, reduces inflammation.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels, and hypertension are the main risk factors for the development of heart diseases. Many studies have shown that blueberries are very effective in the management of diabetes, lipid profile and blood pressure. Thus, blueberries indirectly reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering its risk factors ( 29).
Summary: The parameters that are directly and indirectly related to progression to a diseased heart, is lowered by the functional ingredients that are present in blueberries. It lowers inflammation, reduces blood glucose and helps decrease hypertension.
10. Blueberries May Reduce High Blood Pressure
Maintaining a low sodium level is one of the pre-requisites of keeping the blood pressure down to a healthy level. Potassium, calcium, and magnesium have shown to be associated with low blood pressure. As blueberries are a plethora of these minerals, it is associated with reducing blood pressure.
Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels and ensures smooth blood flow in the body. Hence, the reduction of nitric oxide in the blood results in blood vessel constriction. This results in the production of reactive oxygen species that start harming the cells. Recent studies have shown that sufficient intake of blueberry reduces high blood pressure and arterial stiffness thereby increasing nitric oxide production ( 30).
In 2019, researchers published in The Journal of Gerontology that 200 grams of blueberries daily have the potential to improve blood vessel function and decrease systolic blood pressure ( 31).
Blueberries are super rich in polyphenolic compounds including flavonoids, phenolic acid, and stilbenes that additionally help in lowering high blood pressure.
In 2010, a very interesting study showed that 50 grams of freeze-dried Highbush blueberry powder on consuming lowered the blood pressure in obese men and women. These people had very high blood pressure and consumed blueberries for over 8 weeks ( 32).
It was further observed that the daily intake of freeze-dried blueberry powder brought down the systolic blood pressure by 5.1% and diastolic blood pressure by 6.3%.
Thus, it can be undoubtedly stated that regular consumption of blueberries reduces blood pressure in hypertensive individuals which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases associated with it.
Summary: Blueberries contain the micronutrients that are associated with low blood pressure. It increases the nitric oxide in the blood vessels which acts as a vasodilator. Its antioxidant property scavenges the harmful ROS and maintains efficient blood flow in the vessels.
11. Blueberries Can Improve Brain Health And Memory
As we age, our memory, concentration, and other brain functions decline. This is known as cognitive decline and age plays the most crucial part in it. The production of free radicals that attack the brain increases and such interaction of free radicals with the central nervous system contributes to the decline.
The first step that leads to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is this oxidative stress. Therefore, with aging, it becomes very important to increase the intake of foods rich in antioxidants.
Blueberry is packed with powerful antioxidants. These help in neutralizing the free radicals, reducing the level of oxidative stress. They also improve the antioxidant enzyme system. All these effects together help in memory restoration and improving concentration levels ( 33).
Summary: The powerful antioxidants in blueberries reduce the level of oxidative stress in the brain thereby declining the possibility of neurodegenerative diseases related to it.
12. Blueberries May Help Fight Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Several studies have confirmed that cranberry juice possesses the right constituents which prevent bacterias from attaching to the urinary bladder lining. This in turn positively affects the Urinary tract and ensures low or no UTI.
Blueberries having similar constituents like cranberry also work in an exact manner and prevent the bacteria from attaching ( 34). However, not many studies have been done in this regard.
Summary: Since blueberries have similar constituents like cranberry, it prevents the bacteria from attaching to the urinary bladder lining and prevents UTI.
13. They May Help In Strengthening Bones
A recent animal study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research suggests that these delicious beauties may help strengthen bone, particularly for growing bodies.
The study was conducted for 14 days and it was seen that the blueberry fed rodents had an increase in the bone mass by 36 percent and bone mineral content by 22 percent higher than the control group ( 35).
While more research will be needed to confirm a similar effect in humans, in a clinical study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, female seniors and adolescents of both genders bolstered bone strength by doubling their intake of the blueberry.
Blueberries contain iron, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin K. Each of these is a component of bone. Adequate intake may contribute to building and maintaining bone structure and strength ( 36).
Iron and zinc maintain the strengths and elasticity of bones and joints. Adequate Vitamin K intake also improves calcium absorption and may reduce calcium loss.
Other research found that the girls who consumed the most fruits had a greater bone mass and less calcium excretion ( 37). One cup of blueberries contains 35 percent of Vitamin K, 25 percent of bone-building Vitamin C and manganese.
Summary: The minerals and vitamins that ensure good bone health are in abundance in blueberries. It has Vitamin K, calcium, manganese, and zinc improves bone mass and decreases calcium excretion.
14. Blueberries May Improve Gut Health
Researchers all over the world have claimed that regular consumption of blueberry protects the gastrointestinal tract against several diseases. The antimicrobial properties that are found in Lowbush blueberries protect against the following:
- Escherichia coli (causes foodborne illness)
- Listeria monocytogenes (causes listeriosis that resembles influenza)
- Salmonella Typhimurium (causes typhoid)
Lowbush blueberry was found to inhibit intestinal pathogens and protect probiotics. It has been mentioned earlier that blueberries are very rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Researchers have confirmed that this antioxidant property of blueberry can alleviate and protect against intestinal inflammation ( 38).
Studies showed that blueberries reduce the translocation of the bacteria and thus, decrease the level of inflammation. It destroys the harmful bacteria that may cause gut diseases.
Blueberry conserves healthy and gut-friendly bacteria that improves overall gut health ( 39).
Inflammatory bowel disease is the inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract that can even impair gastrointestinal structure and function. Research has shown that freeze-dried blueberry powder reduces the markers of inflammation and thus reduces the overall state of inflammation.
A study was conducted on rats and it was found that anthocyanins present in blueberry effectively prevented the symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel diseases such as diarrhea and abnormal bowel movements. It also improved the structure of the colon and small intestine and reduced intestinal lesions. Anthocyanins also suppressed the production of free radicals and inflammatory markers ( 40).
Thus, it can be safely stated that oral administration of anthocyanin extract from blueberries has a protective effect on inflammatory bowel disease.
Summary: Blueberries can improve gut health by reducing inflammation, conserving the good bacteria in the gut and reducing the translocation of the bacteria in the gut because of its antioxidant property.
15. Blueberries Can Help Reduce Cholesterol
Several studies on the effect of blueberries on cholesterol were done, and a positive relation was found to exist. Blueberries lower the blood cholesterol level in more than one way. They are:
- A chemical found in blueberry has the ability to reduce the number of lipids in the blood. It works in the same manner as fibrates (a class of lipid-lowering medications).
- Anthocyanin in blueberries has antioxidant properties and can lower the LDL cholesterol.
- Phytosterols found in blueberries can keep the LDL cholesterol down to a healthy level.
- Resveratrol, an antioxidant in blueberries, has a lipid-lowering effect.
- Blueberries lower the cholesterol level in the liver and aorta.
- It reduces the endogenous cholesterol that is produced in the body by the liver. This is done by increasing the usage of cholesterol for the synthesis of bile acids in the body. Increased excretion of bile acid lowers the cholesterol level. This way, less cholesterol is stored in the body and reduces the blood cholesterol level too.
- Besides this, blueberry suppresses the formation of fatty acids and increases the breakdown of fatty acids.
- It increases the use of fatty acid as a source of energy, hence, less fat is stored in the body and less cholesterol is formed. Such a decrease reduced the overall risk of atherogenesis (formation of fatty clots in the arteries).
Summary: The antioxidants present in blueberries lower the LDL cholesterol in the blood and reduce inflammation. Blueberries increase the bile production and usage of endogenous cholesterol, ensuring lesser cholesterol in the body.
Blueberries: Risks, Side Effects, and Drug Interactions
Blueberries have a wide array of health benefits owing to the various nutrients that it contains, but consuming them in excess may bring forth certain side effects. They are:
1. Digestive Issues
Pertaining to the high fiber content of blueberries, excessive consumption may cause stomach discomfort. You may get stomach upset, headache, gas, heartburn, reflux, bloating, and diarrhea. Even though blueberries prevent constipation and help maintain a healthy gut, utmost care should be taken to weigh your total fiber intake of food and include the berries accordingly ( 43).
Moderate consumption of blueberry is advisable for diabetic people as well as individuals who suffer from insulin sensitivity. The functional ingredients in blueberries lower the blood sugar level ( 44).
But too much consumption of this fruit may lower your blood sugar to a dangerous level causing hypoglycemia. The common symptoms are blurred vision, pale skin, headache, sudden nervousness, sweating, loss of consciousness. A doctor’s advice is always important in case you are diabetic and have something new.
3. Side Effects Of Vitamin K Overdose
Blueberries are a great source of Vitamin K. It is a vital nutrient that has a number of functions in our body. It regulates blood clotting, improves bone density, reduces cancer risk and provides cardiovascular risk.
However, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin, excess amounts may cause Vitamin K overdose. High dosage of Vitamin K may lead to skin rashes, shortness of breath, increased risk of internal bleeding and bruising, etc ( 45).
Blueberries should not be consumed by individuals who take anticoagulant medicines. Vitamin K present in it may interfere with the function of the medicine and result in an increased risk of bleeding.
4. Can Interact With Certain Medications
People who take prescription blood thinners like warfarin are told to keep their Vitamin K consumption to a balanced level ( 46).
The sudden increase of any food that increases blood vitamin K, may lead to increased bleeding problems ( 47). Since blueberry has a high content of this Vitamin, utmost care should be taken before usage.
5. Can Cause Salicylate Sensitivity In Some Individuals
Blueberries contain a very high amount of salicylate which also happens to be an important ingredient of aspirin.
It’s a medicine that is used for relieving pain, fever, and inflammation. People who are sensitive to this compound should steer clear of it. In them, it might cause rashes, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems ( 48).
6. Blueberries And Surgery
As mentioned earlier, blueberries contain a high amount of salicylate, which is a natural blood thinner, and Vitamin K, which dissolves blood clots. Bestowed with these properties, blueberries might not be the right choice before surgery.
The Final Note
For ages, this bluish-purple beauty has found its name etched in the folk remedies for its bioactive components that render tremendous health benefits.
Those components in blueberry include anthocyanins, polyphenols, and several antioxidants that have been shown to be anti-cancer, anti-obesity, prevent degenerative diseases, antidiabetes, improve brain, prevent heart diseases, protective liver, protective lungs and so on. Clinical and preclinical studies only have confirmed them.
They are delicious, can easily be incorporated in different recipes or eaten as it is, whole or in juice form. Packed with beneficial nutrients, this fruit is indeed a superfood.
Originally published at https://bestfornutrition.com on May 4, 2020.