Blueberry Benefits: Phytochemicals Fight for Our Health
As one of the more popular fruits, most people know just how delicious blueberries can be. What may not be as clear, however, is how many blueberry benefits there are. Here we explore what puts the super in this superfood.
Some blueberry benefits revealed recently through laboratory research prove that belly fat decreased when lab rats were fed a diet enhanced with blueberries. This study divided the rats – which were already predisposed to weight gain- and they were given a diet that was either high or low in fat. Two percent of the diet of each group included blueberries that were freeze-dried and used in a powder form.
In only three months, the rats’ health improved as a result of the blueberry benefits. Rats consuming the powder supplemented with blueberries had lower levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and fat in the abdominal area. Insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity and fasting glucose improved, and each of these can be related to diabetes risk.
It is important to note that regardless of the diet, both groups of rats showed improvements in health due to blueberry benefits. However, rats with diets that were low in fat lost weight, had a reduction of total body fat, and less fat concentration in the liver compared to their rat counterparts that ate a high-fat diet.
This research is crucial to our understanding of human health and preventative treatment. So many Americans suffer from metabolic disease because of their extra weight and the consumption of high-fat foods. One of the chief symptoms in diabetes, an enlarged liver, is associated with insulin resistance and obesity.
Phytochemical Blueberry Benefits
One of the main beneficial factors in the chemical makeup of blueberries is that they are full of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are just another way to describe antioxidants, also known as phytonutrients. Phyto is Greek for plant, as they are only provided via plant foods. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, phytochemicals – like in blueberries –provide many positives as they play a role in:
- protecting our bodies against cancer
- assisting the immune system
- decreasing inflammation
- inhibiting damage to DNA
- helping DNA fix itself
- decreasing oxidative damage
- slowing the rate at which cancer grows
- normalizing hormone levels
- making impaired cells get rid of themselves before replication occurs
Polyphenols are the most commonly found phytonutrient in blueberries and benefit the body by preventing inflammation and cancer formation, as well as functioning as an antioxidant. Antioxidants work by offsetting the oxidative damage that negatively affects the cells, which may have come from food or that which naturally occurs in the body. Blueberries also provide antioxidants through their vitamin C and anthocyanin concentration.
One key positive trait of the blueberry is its antibacterial components from antioxidants, which more readily fight infection. This power fruit can reduce triglyceride levels and may also decrease insulin levels. The blueberry may also prove beneficial regarding the amount of visceral fat, or fat around the internal organs.
In 2013, the Circulation journal published a study that found women had a lesser chance of heart attack when three or more blueberry servings were consumed a week versus women who had them less than once a month.
Blueberry benefits the eyes as well, especially in the older population, by combating oxidative damage that can occur over time.
Another study performed in 2016 found that when mice were given wild blueberry powder, there was a major improvement of episodic-like or contextual memory that occurred. The mice that did not receive this blueberry powder not only lacked improvements in memory, but they experienced a decline. Researchers believe that this blueberry benefit of cognitive function could be correlated with oxidation levels within the brain, reduction in immunoreactivity, and other factors. A similar study in 2015 found that powder made from freeze-dried blueberries substantially increased cognitive function and performance in a variety of tasks, such as word identification and memory, among seven- to ten-year old-children.
Evidence also shows that when participants in a 2014 study were given whole blueberry powder for six weeks, they found a decrease of stiffness or hardening of the arteries in both males and females with sedentary lifestyles. Subjects also had a significant improvement in their diastolic blood pressure. The blueberries actually increased their count of natural killer cells too, which are crucial to cancer recovery. Natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte, or white blood cell. The lymphatic system is a group of both tissues and organs that function to purge toxins and wastes out of the body. Natural killer cells actually exist to link to tumor cells or virally-infected cells and kill them, hence the name. Blueberries not only benefit our general health, but help in the fight against infection and cancer.
The consumption of blueberries assists the body as a whole through the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system. The NEM system represents the compilation of all the body’s organs and systems, acknowledging that they all work together through self-regulation to create a healthy body. When the body is stressed, it tries to protect itself through a cascading response that includes cortisol release. Cortisol is the chief anti-stress hormone in this process and it shields the body from excessive adrenal fatigue by regulating blood sugar levels, decreasing inflammation, suppressing the immune system, and contracting vessels.
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is mainly caused by stress, but could also result from various problems with the nervous system, immune system or with metabolic and/or nutritional factors. As noted above, blueberries could reverse damage to all of these systems as it helps with the brain, fights infection and cancer, improves metabolic processes, and more. Although cortisol attempts to protect the body, it weakens the immune system by suppressing white blood cells, natural killer cells in particular, while simultaneously suppressing adrenal fatigue. Since blueberries contain antioxidants that have been proven to increase natural killer cells, supplementation may help in adrenal fatigue recovery and general health. In these aforementioned ways, blueberries could benefit a consumer of any age by working alongside the NEM system to improve function in many systems and the body as a whole.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.