For centuries, wild blueberries have grown abundantly throughout the northern climates of North America – particularly Maine, Atlantic Canada and Quebec. They can be spotted while trekking through the woods, where people can snatch them right off of bushes and pop them into their mouths. Although enjoyed simply for their taste for many years, we now know that this succulent blue fruit also comes with numerous documented health benefits. Since the 1970s, blueberries have become one of the most highly researched foods of the early 21st century, the darlings of scientists and crowned, by the media, as the “superfood.”
So what exactly makes the blueberry so super?
According to the Wild Blueberry Association, blueberries have been the subject of hundreds of research papers, the first of which was published by Sir James Sawyer, MD touting their gastrointestinal benefits way back in 1903. Since then, hundreds of clinical trials and studies have been confirming the power of the blueberry. According to the USDA, wild blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity per serving, compared to more than 20 other fruits. One study after another shows how the high antioxidant activity of the blueberry protects cells from oxidative stress. As we know, antioxidants have been linked with anti-aging, anti-cancer and heart-health benefits. Scientists continue to find new evidence that a diet enriched with wild blueberries has the potential to prevent and reverse age-related cognitive decline.
There is a growing body of research supporting the beneficial effects of blueberries on the brain, showing that they help with motor skills and short-term memory. Findings of another study suggest that eating one or more servings of blueberries each week may help slow cognitive degeneration by several years. Also, in a very recent study, blueberry supplementation was shown to allay age-related behavioral deficits.
Wild blueberries, rich in anthocyanins, also aid in maintaining memory function. One study showed that adults who supplemented their diets with wild blueberries saw improved memory function and mood, further supporting the conclusion that blueberries mayslow the loss of cognitive function. All of this research is promising for patients in need of cognitive support, or for those who wish to slow cognitive decline, in particular, the aging. There is also ‘biochemical debris’ that contributes to the decline of mental capacity with age. One study found that blueberry extract helped clean the brain cells and remove the toxic chemicals before they did damage.
Epidemiological findings suggest that the consumption of berries rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
In addition to brain health, blueberries are good for the heart. The berries’ high anthocyanin content may have cholesterol-lowering effects, help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque, and provide other benefits to the heart.
Wild blueberries have also been found to support a healthy inflammatory response by inhibiting production of two important pro-inflammatory cytokines in macrophages.
As Sir James Sawyer suggested back in 1903, blueberries can also help the gut. Wild blueberry consumption resulted in a specific bifidogenic effect that could positively affect certain populations of bifidobacteria with demonstrated health properties.
Daily consumption of blueberries has also been linked to supporting healthy blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. Thus, we see that in that tiny blueberry lives a universe of health benefits that are just now on the cusp of being fully realized and appreciated.