I’m not about to jump right in and tell you about all the antioxidants in this tiny, tasty, sweet fruit.
When I think antioxidants, blueberries are the first thing to pop into my mind, probably because wherever you look, every other fruit is compared to blueberries. I’ve even compared Black Pearl Rice to blueberries.
Suffice it to say, blueberries are a powerhouse of good nutrition. They are, without any exaggeration, a superfood.
Blueberries are famous for being charged with polyphenols (flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and lignans). Probably the most famous of the flavonoids in blueberries are the anthocyanins and tannins, while the most famous stilbenes are pterostilbene and resveratrol.
Let’s handle these one at a time.
Anthocyanins are colorful. Nutritionists who’ve never gotten their messages across to the common man, woman, and child, have finally resorted to screaming: Eat colorful foods!
The word “anthocyanin” has the word cyan in it. Cyan is blue. The disk you see here is cyan, not exactly the color of blueberries, but then the colors of anthocyanins actually bounce along the color spectrum from red, to blue, to purple. And, as an aside, it’s their pH that determines the color, though these are very subtle differences in pH.
Since we’re talking about pH and color, I thought I’d give you something to demonstrate the relationship between color and pH, using the anthocyanin flavonoids.
When I taught science, we used the anthocyanins from red cabbage to make a pH indicator solution.
This is something you can do with your kids.
Boil a bit of red cabbage and keep the water (letting it cool). Depending on how long you boiled the cabbage, you’ll wind up with a deep purple liquid.
Now pour this into two glasses. Into one glass, squeeze a lemon. In the other, drop some baking soda.
In the first glass, you’ll see the liquid turning red, indicating the lemon juice is acidic.
In the other glass, the liquid will turn blue to blue-green indicating, baking soda is alkaline. If you were to add ammonium, it would turn yellow showing that it’s highly alkaline.
Probably most important in today’s culture are anthocyanin’s affect on metabolic syndrome and blood sugar. Blueberries are hypoglycemic, which means they keep your blood sugar from spiking. [Ref]
And though blueberries did not lower blood pressure in adults with metabolic syndrome, they did improve endothelial function. The endothelial tissues are the first layer of tissues inside our arteries, the tissues affected by nitric oxide. Blueberries too spread out these tissues and relax the arteries. [Ref ]
Further studies show that anthocyanins protect the heart from damage, caused by fine particles induced into your bloodstream by whacky researchers [Ref] or keeping blood platelets from forming clots [Ref] to preventing atherosclerosis [Ref].
When it comes to hypertension (high blood pressure), there’s one study that everyone researching blueberries comes across: Daily Blueberry Consumption Improves Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Postmenopausal Women with Pre- and Stage 1-Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.
Everyone points out that they didn’t get the same results in men, but we must keep in mind that because of hormonal imbalances, women have a greater chance of heart attacks than men overall. Men tend to get heart attacks much younger than women. The average age is 66 for men and 70 for women. [Ref]
But overall, again, women have risk factors men don’t: their hearts are smaller, their symptoms of a heart attack are different from men’s symptoms, heart attacks are harder on women than on men, and women don’t get the same care after a heart attack as men do. (I hope this last one makes you angry, because something here has to change.) [Ref1, Ref2]
Getting back to hypertension and blueberries, new research is appearing showing that, yes, blueberries can help lower blood pressure in both sexes. [Ref]
Once again I have to bring up this fact: the pH differences that show up as various colors in fruit is very slight. But it’s this dark blue color in blueberries we’re here to look at.
In our paper on Adiponectin, we point out that anthocyanins increase the amount of adiponectin in your blood. And once this hormone is released from the fat tissues, many benefits are realized, including weight loss.
All anthocyanins can do this, but recent studies show that the blueberry is especially helpful for weight loss (probably because it’s not that high in calories, is high in fiber, and contains quite a few of the phytochemicals needed to pull this off. You can google it, but here’s just one of the thousands of papers on-line discussing blueberries and weight loss: Eating Fruits Like Blueberries Will Help You Lose Weight: Study.
If you’ve not read the article on Adiponectin, then we shall highlight the benefits of having your blueberries release it into your blood stream:
Keep in mind that this is just because of the anthocyanins in blueberries. There are quite a few more phytochemicals worth mentioning, and I’ll bet you’re starting to catch on to why we refer to blueberries as superfoods.
And please note that blueberry supplements are not the same as blueberries:
It is important to note that [sic] majority of the human studies that did not observe a positive outcome with whole blueberry supplementation . . . . [Ref]
There, I said it: antioxidants. The trouble with focusing so much on antioxidants is that most of the research on antioxidants is done in laboratories, not in human beings. Taking too much of too many antioxidants stops the oxidation processes we need, like the creation of hydrogen peroxide to kill cancer cells.
Sometimes, some people just take too many antioxidants.
But these antioxidants and phytochemicals are from blueberries, which are food, and getting your antioxidants from food is always better than from supplements because the foods are whole and consist of many, many phytochemicals, or every instrument in the orchestra, as I like to say. You cannot write a concert with just the horn section, so let’s use the entire orchestra.
Knowing this, we can tell you that blueberries prevent aging, age spots, cataracts, wrinkles, hair loss and, the thing that helps to prevent all this: blueberries prevent oxidative damage to DNA.
P.S. Anthocyanin is an antioxidant.
Well it’s about time someone mentioned tannins. Although to be completely honest and upfront with you, they too are considered antioxidants.
So besides doing their usual gig in our bodies, tannins have a bit of muscle left over to prevent and even treat cancer.
From the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health we found a paper entitled: Ellagitannins in Cancer Chemoprevention and Therapy.
They gave us a perfect image to post for you.
Whenever tannins (polyphenols) in blueberries are mentioned, they are usually called ellagitannins and ellagic acid, which seems a bit redundant since both are tannins. I suppose an extra focus on ellagic acid by itself is needed when talking about cancer. It’s the first phytochemical from fruit that I discovered early in my research that fights cancer. In fact, I found a little pamphlet on raspberries that quoted a study from a university in one of the Carolinas that had discovered that a cup of raspberries weekly stopped prostate cancer growth for a week.
Additionally, blueberries make cancer cells more vulnerable to radiation. In both prostate and cervical cancer, radiation seems to be the therapy of choice for most oncologists.
At the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Columbia, a Dr Yujiang Fang led a group of researchers in a small study in the treatment of cervical cancer.
When they used radiation alone, they realized a 20% reduction in cancer cells.
When they use blueberries alone, they realized a 25% reduction in cancer cells.
When they use blueberries and radiation together, Dr Fang reported that the blueberry extract, “tricks cancer cells into dying,” and they realized a 70% reduction in cancer cells, and the blueberry extract kept the cancer from growing new cells. [Ref]
Blueberries do contain tannins, but not as much as the pomegranate, which doesn’t contain as much as red raspberries. In fact, you should look at our article called: Resveratrol, Pterostilbene, and Ellagic Acid.
However, you should note that the tannins are working together with anthocyanins and even the stilbenes when taking on cancer. We cannot separate out these phytochemicals and expect to get the same results using “an active ingredient.”
And now we’re about to warp jump into . . .
Stilbenes are also polyphenols (just a type of chemical name for something containing a phenolic hydroxyl group) and they are also [wait for it] antioxidants. [whoopee!]
The two superstars in blueberries are pterostilbene and resveratrol. You can jump to the link above or simply allow me to highlight the talents of these two right here:
All in all, these two stilbenes are very much anti-aging. And as we age, we sure can use their assistance.
And as for improving brain function, here’s something I found that’s remarkable:
In addition to their well-documented antioxidant activity, ongoing research from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging suggests that blueberry polyphenols may exert neuroprotective effects by indirectly increasing brain cell receptor sensitivity, thereby improving neuronal signaling. There is further evidence that blueberry polyphenols promote the formation of new synaptic connections between neurons, a mechanism that could theoretically augment brain plasticity—i.e., learning capacity—even in the elderly. [Ref]
Another study, on rats, of course, is summarized:
Nutritional interventions, in this case, increasing dietary intake of fruits and vegetables, can retard and even reverse age-related declines in brain function and in cognitive and motor performance in rats. . . . To date, the anthocyanins show the most efficacy in penetrating the cell membrane and in providing antioxidant protection. In sum, our results indicate that increasing dietary intake of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidant activity may be an important component of a healthy living strategy designed to maximize neuronal and cognitive functioning into old age. [Ref]
While researching the humble blueberry, I came across something very interesting that, synchronistically, was later that day found in my email. A reader had sent me this same study.
So, here it is.
There’s a lot of talk about good gut bacteria. Forty years ago, nobody talked probiotics. They didn’t really exist. it seems. Doctors prescribed antibiotics, and women suffered yeast infections. Men too found themselves a new infection or two. I’ve even had an eye infection following a regimen of antibiotics.
Today scientists finally have admitted that our bodies are only 10% of everything that makes up “us.” We are mostly bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, and even critters (tiny critters, but still critters).
We pointed this out in our article: Those Little Guys Are Everywhere.
Medicine hasn’t arrived there yet, but someday medicine will focus on a “healthy biome” rather than trying to fix one problem only to cause another.
In fact, a tiny problem with pharmacological medicines is that they were designed to do just one thing. Food, on the other hand, well, hey, you’ve read to this point.
You know this.
Foods benefit our bodies in a good number of ways. But a pill is “usually” designed for one job.
So here we have the humble blueberry. We’ve shown how many things it can do for us, but there’s one more that surprised even the researchers.
Blueberries influence our gut bacteria (or Microbiota).
There were three groups: one fed a high fat diet, another fed a low fat diet, and one (the experimental group) fed a high fat diet plus blueberry powder.
I’m not sure what “blueberry powder” is or how it was made, but let’s go with it.
These are the results (in the experimental group because there were no results in either control group):
So now you know why I made a salad dressing (a vinaigrette) using blueberries and pomegranates. It’s damn healthy and pretty damn tasty.
And let’s face it. Most of us are not going to eat something that doesn’t taste good.
You know what they call food that doesn’t taste good, right?
But not in my kitchen.
No, we’re not about to leave before mentioning this, because this should have been the one thing you all knew before you started reading this article. Blueberries are famous heart food. And I have to realize that some of you don’t know this. [I just read an article written by a psychologist [Ref] about people who know something and just assume everyone else knows it too and how the damn know-it-all just brushes over important information and uses too much jargon and just confuses everyone around him because he’s really the only one who knows it and just assumes that everyone must know it too.]
So, first there’s cholesterol. Google blueberries and cholesterol, and you’ll hear that blueberries lower cholesterol.
But I’ll be damned if I’m going to tell you this is good for your heart. I am livid at this point in my life that modern medicine is still lying to you about cholesterol being a risk factor in your life, especially when all the studies show us that as we age, higher cholesterol will save your life. I’m in my late sixties and I’ll be damned if I’m going to ever let another doctor order me a cholesterol test. Last time it was perfect: 245. At my age that means my odds of a heart attack are low. The odds of me being killed by a passing eagle dropping a tortoise on my head are greater.
Cholesterol is trying its hardest to keep me alive. So if you doubt me, read this: Higher Cholesterol Is Associated With Longer Life.
We’ve already talked blueberries properties: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and hypoglycemic (lowering blood sugar). These all are great for the heart. Yes, blueberries seem to lower blood pressure and soften the endothelial tissues while keeping platelets from forming clots.
So obviously blueberries are helping people with metabolic syndrome (inflammation, high blood pressure, insulin insensitivity). Would it surprise you then that Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome?
Of course not. So when we add up everything we’ve learned about blueberries, we can all conclude that they are protecting our hearts.
Let’s sum up all the benefits from blueberries:
Or…make one of our blueberry vinaigrettes (the Blueberry, Pomegranate, Beet, and Mangosteen Pericarp Vinaigrette is the very best and healthiest salad dressing you will find anywhere) and have a salad every day.
Well, actually, it’s from 2009. We’ve just recently learned about it, so it’s new to us, and probably to you.
Blueberries and Milk DO NOT MIX (well)
In this 2009 study, it was learned that mixing the two together (as milk, yogurt, and/or whey protein) not only impaired the antioxidant properties of the blueberries, but lowered overall a person’s antioxidant load to much less than what it would have been had not this combination been consumed.
Isn’t that a kick in the butt.
Not to be a spoil sport, but milk does the same thing to some of the benefits of chocolate.
So, instead of adding blueberries to your smoothie, go with the other nutritionally charged fruits, and keep blueberries in your salad dressings.
Oh, and one more thing that another study along this line revealed was that milk drinkers have shorter lifespans and are more prone to osteoporosis. (Yes, I know…we’ve all been told milk is great for us. But, we’ve been fooled before by advertising and the power of money.)
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