Wild Blueberry Research

Investigating the Benefits of Blue

Scientists around the world are studying the ways in which natural compounds, or phytonutrients, in Wild Blueberries may help combat disease and promote healthy aging. Today, promising research focuses on a wide range of potential health benefits in many different areas. For an in-depth look at hundreds of health-related blueberry studies, visit the Wild Blueberry Association Research Library™, the most comprehensive, easy-to-use source of blueberry research on the Web.

Often these studies are led by members of “The Bar Harbor Group,” scientists who meet regularly to share their research findings and explore opportunities for future collaboration.  These researchers are active in the fields of neuroscience, aging, cardiovascular disease, cancer, eye health, metabolic syndrome, and other health-related areas.  Learn more about The Bar Harbor Group.

 

Research News: Berries Show Heart-Boosting Power for Women

A Harvard School of Public Health study published in the January 2013 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, finds that three or more servings of blueberries and strawberries per week may slash a woman’s risk of heart attack by as much as 33%. Researchers attributed benefits to the berries’ high anthocyanin content, which may help dilate arteries, counter the buildup of plaque and provide other cardiovascular benefits.

Aedin Cassidy, Kenneth J. Mukamal, Lydia Liu, Mary Franz, A Heather Eliassen, Eric B. Rimm

Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. 2013; 127: 188-196

Read more on blueberries and heart health.

 

Key Studies

 

Antioxidant Research

Total Antioxidant Capacity

According to USDA studies, Wild Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity per serving, compared with more than 20 other fruits. Using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) testing procedure, researcher Ronald Prior, Ph.D., found that a one-cup serving of Wild Blueberries had more total antioxidant capacity (TAC) than a serving of cranberries, strawberries, plums, raspberries and even cultivated blueberries.

ORAC of Selected Foods, USDA-ARS, May 2010 

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2004; 52:4026-4037

Cellular Antioxidant Activity 

Research shows that Wild Blueberries have the highest cellular antioxidant activity of selected fruits tested. Lead scientist Rui Hai Liu, Ph.D. used the cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay — an assay developed by the Cornell University Department of Food Science — to determine antioxidant activity of antioxidants, foods, and dietary supplements. Wild Blueberries outperformed two dozen commonly consumed fruits like pomegranates, strawberries, cultivated blueberries, cranberries, apples and red grapes. Antioxidant have been linked with anti-aging, anti-cancer and heart-health benefits.

Wolfe KL, Liu RH
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2008; 56(18): 8418-8426

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2007; 55(22): 8896-8907

Fighting Oxidative Stress

USDA scientists concluded that eating Wild Blueberries and other antioxidant-rich foods at every meal helps prevent oxidative stress. This study advances antioxidant research by moving beyond the measurement of antioxidants in foods to actual examination of the performance of specific fruits against oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is linked to chronic diseases and aging.

Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2007; 26(2): 170-181

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Brain Health

For more than a decade, the body of research supporting the beneficial effects of Wild Blueberry consumption on aging has been growing. In 1999, James Joseph, Ph.D., and his team at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University first reported that a diet of blueberries may improve motor skills and reverse short-term memory loss. Although Joseph and his team studied other fruits and vegetables, only blueberries were effective in improving motor skills. 

In 2003, Dr. Joseph and his team reported that it may be possible to overcome genetic predispositions to Alzheimer disease through diet. They demonstrated the protective effects of blueberry supplementation on memory in laboratory mice.

Joseph JA, Denisova NA, Arendash G, Gordon M, Diamond D, Shukitt-Hale B, Morgan D.

Nutritional Neuroscience. 2003; 6: 153-162
Journal of Neuroscience. 1999; 19(18): 8114-8121

Scientists continue to find new evidence that a Wild Blueberry enriched diet has the potential to prevent and reverse age-related cognitive decline and help combat diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Recent studies include:

Anti-inflammatory Benefits

Dr. Joseph’s team studied the anti-inflammatory potential of the polyphenols in blueberries, including the potent antioxidant anthocyanin. When rats with neuronal lesions were fed a blueberry-supplemented diet, not only did they perform better in cognitive tests, the concentration of several substances in the brain that can trigger an inflammatory response was significantly reduced. The polyphenols in blueberries appear to inhibit the production of these inflammatory mediators. 

Shukitt-Hale B, Lau FC, Carey AN, Balli RL, Spangler EL, Ingram DK, Joseph JA

Nutritional Neuroscience. 2008; 11(4): 172-182

Improving Memory Function

In the first human study of its kind, released in early 2010, researchers demonstrated that anthocyanin-rich Wild Blueberries are highly beneficial in maintaining memory function. The study, conducted by a team led by Dr. Robert Krikorian, Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati, confirmed that Wild Blueberry supplemented diets improved memory function and mood in older adults with early memory decline. The findings suggest that regular consumption of Wild Blueberries may slow the loss of cognitive function and decrease depression in the elderly.

“Our preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that supplementing one’s diet with blueberries may help forestall cognitive aging.”

Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience, University of Cincinnati

Krikorian R, Shidler MD, Nash TA, Kalt W, Vinqvist-Tymchuk MR, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2010; 58, 3996-4000

Berry Extracts and Brain Aging

A team led by Shibu Poulose, Ph.D. at the USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging studies the build-up of biochemical debris in the brain, which they believe contributes to the decline of mental functioning with age. His team found that extracts from blueberries and other deeply colored berries enable “housekeeper” cells in the brain to remove the toxic chemicals before they do damage.

American Chemical Society Abstract, August 23, 2010

Preventing and Reversing Memory Decline

David Malin and scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging demonstrated the prompt and powerful effect of a short-term blueberry-enriched diet on aged rats.  In their previous work, the team showed positive results of longer-term blueberry feeding on memory impairment. The new study suggests that a considerable degree of age-related object memory decline can be prevented and reversed in a brief time on blueberry-enriched diets.

Malin DH, Lee DR, Goyarzu P, Chang Y, Ennis L, Beckett E, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA.

Nutrition 27 (2011) 338-342

 

Berries and Flavonoids in relation to Cognitive Decline

A team led by Elizabeth Devore of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School has determined that regular consumption of blueberries and strawberries may help curb cognitive decline among older adults. The study used a sample of more than 16,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, one of the longest-running investigations of women’s health in the U.S.  Findings suggest that eating one or more servings of blueberries each week may help slow cognitive degeneration by several years.

Devore EE, KangJH, Breteler MM, Grodstein F

Annals of Neurology. April 2012: doi: 10.1002/ana.23594. [Epub ahead of print]

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Cancer Prevention

Triple Negative Breast Cancer

Research conducted by Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., and Lynn Adams, Ph.D., of the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA, has demonstrated the potential of blueberries to inhibit the growth of Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), a particularly aggressive and hard to treat form of breast tumor.

Adams LS, Kanaya N, Phung S, Liu Z, Chen S.

The Journal of Nutrition, August 31,2011; doi:10.3945/jn.111.140178

Inhibiting Cancer Growth

Studies conducted by Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, indicate that compounds in Wild Blueberries may be effective inhibitors of both the initiation and promotion stages of cancer. 

Schmidt BM, Howell AB, McEniry B, Knight CT, Seigler D, Erdman JW Jr, Lila MA
Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2004; 52(21): 6433-6442;

Journal of Food Science. 2000; 65(2)

 

Heart Health

A growing body of research points to the potential for a blueberry-enriched diet to promote heart health thanks to the berries’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. A 2013 study published in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association by researchers at Harvard School of Public health reported that eating anthocyanin-rich berries such as blueberries and strawberries appeared to reduce the risk of heart attack in women by as much as 33%. Research continues to uncover more potential heart benefits.

Preventing Atherosclerosis

Recent studies by Dr. Xanli Wu and colleagues at the USDA-funded Arkansas Children’s Nutrition Center in Little Rock show evidence for the health benefits of lowbush Wild Blueberries in preventing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerotic heart disease is the build-up of plaque in the artery wall starting as fatty streaks, primarily made up of immune cells (macrophages), in which cholesterol is accumulated. Previously, Dr. Wu’s group showed that Wild Blueberry-fed animals developed fewer plaques in the aorta compared to controls. In a recently published study, the team showed that two receptors in macrophages were significantly down regulated in the Wild Blueberry-fed animals.

Xie C, Kang J, Chen JR, Lazarenko OP, Ferguson ME, Badger TM, Nagarajan S, Wu X.

Food & Function. October 2011:2(10):588-94

Inflammation and Atherosclerosis

In a second study by Dr. Wu’s group, Wild Blueberries were found to effectively reduce inflammation by inhibiting the production of two important pro-inflammatory cytokines in macrophages. Possible bioactive components thought to be responsible were identified in another study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. These substances were shown to affect mechanisms that offer protection by decreasing uptake of and eliminating cholesterol that has accumulated in plaque.

Xie C, Kang J, Chen JR, Lazarenko OP, Ferguson ME, Badger TM, Nagarajan S, Wu X.

Molecular Nutrition and Food Research. 2011, 55, 1-5

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2011, 59, 10381-10387

Protection against CVD

Research conducted by Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, Ph.D., and her team at the University of Maine, Orono, concludes that a diet of Wild Blueberries may reduce risk from cardiovascular disease (CVD). These findings suggest that the consumption of Wild Blueberries could help regulate blood pressure and combat atherosclerosis. Studies show that Wild Blueberries have the potential to decrease the vulnerability of heart blood vessels to oxidative stress and inflammation in animal models. This builds on previous work by the Klimis-Zacas team, which demonstrated the positive effect of a Wild Blueberry-based diet on animal-model blood vessel function.

Kristo AS, Malavaki CJ, Lamari FM, Karamanos NK, Klimis-Zacas D.

Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2011 Sep 16
Journal of Medicinal Food, 2009; Feb; 12 (1): 21-8
Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2009, Jan 19
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Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2006 17(2): 109-116
Journal of Medicinal Food, 2005 Mar; 8(1): 8-13

Protecting the Heart Muscle

A blueberry-enriched diet may protect the heart muscle from damage according to scientists at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and the National Institute on Aging. In this study blueberries appear to act as both an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent in animal models.

Ahmet I, Spangler E, Shukitt-Hale B, Juhaszova J, Sollott SJ, Joseph JA, Ingram D, Talaj M.
PLoS ONE. June 18 2009; 4(6):e5954

Reducing Cholesterol

Research shows that blueberries may support cardiovascular health through cholesterol lowering effects. A research team at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada led by Wilhelmina Kalt, Ph.D., found that blueberry supplementation reduced plasma cholesterol levels in pigs.

Kalt W, Foote K, Filmore SA, Lyon M, Van Lunen TA, McRae KB

British Journal of Nutrition. 2008; 100(1): 70-78

In 2010, a team of scientists studying cholesterol-lowering effects in laboratory hamsters reported that a blueberry-enhanced diet lowered total plasma cholesterol and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) levels.

Kim H, Bartley GE, Rimando AM, Yokoyama W.

Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2010 Apr 14; 58(7): 3984-91

Cardiovascular protection

A study demonstrating potential cardiovascular protection by blueberries showed that blueberry diets lowered blood pressure, preserved kidney vascular function and prevented oxidative stress by raising antioxidant defenses in kidneys in an animal model. High blood pressure is the second leading cause of end-stage kidney disease in the U.S. and is a growing problem with an aging and overweight population. It is suggested that the most effective way to avoid high blood pressure is to prevent hypertension or delay its progression. 

Elks CM, Reed SC, Mariappan N, Shukkitt-Hale B, Joseph JA, Ingram DK, Francis J

PLoS ONE. September 2011; 6(9): e24028.

Protection Against Stroke

Animal trials conducted by Marva Sweeney Nixon and her team at the University of Prince Edward Island, PEI, Canada, indicate that consumption of Wild Blueberries confers protection to the brain against damage from ischemic stroke.

Sweeney MI, Kalt W, MacKinnon SL, Ashby J, Gottschall-Pass KT
Nutritional Neuroscience. 2002; 5(6): 427-431

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Gut Health

Research conducted by scientists at the University of Maine reveals Wild Blueberries promote better gastrointestinal and digestive health, a significant finding due to gut health’s key role in overall immune system health. In the study, researchers found that rats fed a diet of Wild Blueberries showed an increase in bacteria beneficial to overall gut health.  These beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, are critical to helping the body maintain good digestive and immune system health.

Lacombe, A., R.W. Li, D. Klimis-Zacas, A.S. Kristo, S. Tadepalli, E. Krauss, . . . V.C.H. Wu,

Plos One, 2013. 8(6): p. e67497.

 

Promoting Good Bacteria

Beneficial intestinal microflora play a critical role in digestive health and the immune system. Researchers from the University of Milan and the University of Maine, led by Dr. Stefano Vendrame, conducted clinical studies showing that regular consumption of a Wild Blueberry drink favorable affects the composition of the intestinal microbiota by increasing a type of beneficial bacteria called Bifidobacteria.

 Vendrame S, Guglielmetti S, Riso P, Arioli S, Klimis-Zacas D, Porrini M.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011, 59 (24):12820

 

Metabolic Syndrome

A combination of medical disorders including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, abdominal obesity, and impaired glucose tolerance, metabolic syndrome is responsible for increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Working with Wild Blueberry fruit compounds known as anthocyanins, Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D., from North Carolina State University, Plants for Human Health Institute led a team of researchers that demonstrated that blueberry phytochemicals helped alleviate hyperglycemia in rodent models, a condition associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Grace MH, Ribnicky DM, Kuhn P, Poulev A, Logendra S, Yousef GG, Raskin I, Lila MA
Phytomedicine, 2009 May; 16(5): 406-15

A team looking at the therapeutic roles of blueberries, strawberries and cranberries in metabolic syndrome reported that blueberries have been shown to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure and lipid oxidation and improve insulin resistance.

Basu A, Lyons TJ

Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 2011 Nov 29.

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Reducing Diabetes Risk

A number of researchers have reported on the anti-diabetic effects of blueberry-supplemented diets. A study led by Dr. April Stull and Dr. William Cefalu of the Pennington Biomedical Research center at Louisiana State University found that daily consumption of whole blueberries helped people with a high risk for Type 2 diabetes reduce that risk. The bioactives in blueberries increased the participants’ insulin sensitivity, a key factoring preventing Type 2 diabetes.

Stull AJ, Cash KC, Johnson WD, Champagne CM, Cefalu WT.

Journal of Nutrition. 2010 Oct; 140(10): 1764-8 

 

Urinary Tract Health

At the Rutgers University Blueberry Cranberry Research Center, Amy Howell, Ph.D., showed that blueberries, like cranberries, contain compounds that prevent the bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections from attaching to the bladder wall.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2004 52(21): 6433-6442;  

New England Journal of Medicine. 1998; 339(15)

 

Vision Health

Research around the world has indicated that the anthocyanin content in blueberries may improve night vision and prevent tired eyes. Several European studies documented the relationship between bilberries, a European cousin of blueberries, and improved eyesight. Japanese researchers showed that blueberries helped ease eye fatigue.

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