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10 Proven Health Benefits of Blueberries

26 February 2024


Commentary By Dr. Donald Greig




Blueberries are often called a “superfood” as they are low in calories and incredibly good for you. This small but mighty berry is loaded with nutrients . They may help lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, improve memory, aid in exercise recovery, and more. Blueberries are sweet, nutritious and wildly popular.


Here are 10 proven health benefits of blueberries.


1. Blueberries are low in calories but high in nutrients


The blueberry bush (Vaccinium sect. Cyanococcus) is a flowering shrub that produces berries with a bluish, purple hue — also known as blueberries.

It is closely related to similar shrubs, such as those that produce cranberries and huckleberries.


Blueberries are small — around 0.2–0.6 inches (5–16 millimeters) in diameter — and feature a flared crown at the end.


They are green in colour when they first appear, then deepen to purple and blue as they ripen.


The two most common types are:

  • Highbush blueberries: The most common cultivated variety in the US.

  • Lowbush or “wild” blueberries: Typically smaller and richer in some antioxidants.

Blueberries are among the most nutrient-dense berries. A 1-cup (148-gram) serving of blueberries contains:

  • Fibre: 3.6 grams

  • Vitamin C: 16% of the Daily Value (DV)

  • Vitamin K: 24% of the DV

  • Manganese: 22% of the DV

  • Small amounts of various other nutrients

They are also about 85% water, and an entire cup contains only 84 calories, with 21.5 grams of carbohydrates.


Calorie for calorie, this makes them an excellent source of several important nutrients.


SUMMARY

The blueberry is a very popular berry. It is low in calories but high in fibre, vitamin C and vitamin K.


2. Blueberries are one of the top antioxidant foods


Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage your cells and contribute to aging and diseases, such as cancer.


Blueberries are believed to have one of the highest antioxidant levels of all common fruits and vegetables.


The main antioxidant compounds in blueberries belong to a family of polyphenol antioxidants called flavonoids.


One group of flavonoids in particular — anthocyanins — is thought to be responsible for much of these berries’ beneficial health effects.


Blueberries have been shown to directly increase antioxidant levels in your body.


SUMMARY

Blueberries may have the highest antioxidant capacity of all the popular fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids appear to be the berries’ antioxidant with the greatest impact.


3. Blueberries reduce DNA damage, which may help protect against aging and cancer


Oxidative DNA damage is an unavoidable part of everyday life. It is said to occur in every cell in your body, every day.


DNA damage is part of the reason we grow older. It also plays an important role in the development of diseases like cancer.


Because blueberries are high in antioxidants, they can neutralize some of the free radicals that damage your DNA.


In one study, 168 people drank 34 ounces (1 litre) of a mixed blueberry and apple juice daily. After four weeks, oxidative DNA damage due to free radicals was reduced by 20%.


These findings agree with smaller studies that use either fresh or powdered blueberries.


SUMMARY

Several studies suggest that blueberries and blueberry juice reduce DNA damage, which is a leading driver of aging and cancer.


4. Blueberries protect cholesterol in your blood from becoming damaged


Oxidative damage is not limited to your cells and DNA.


It is also problematic when your “bad” LDL cholesterol is oxidized.


In fact, oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol is a crucial step in the heart disease process.


The antioxidants in blueberries are strongly linked to reduced levels of oxidized LDL. This makes blueberries very good for your heart.


A daily 2-ounce (50-gram) serving of freeze-dried blueberries lowered LDL oxidation by 28% over 8 weeks in people with obesity.


Another study determined that eating 2.5 ounces (75 grams) of blueberries with a main meal significantly reduced the oxidation of “bad” LDL cholesterol.


SUMMARY

The antioxidants in blueberries have been shown to reduce a predominant risk factor for heart disease by preventing oxidative damage to “bad” LDL cholesterol.


5. Blueberries may lower blood pressure


Blueberries appear to have significant benefits for people with high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.


In an 8-week study, people with obesity who had had a high risk of heart disease noted a 4%–6% reduction in blood pressure after consuming 2 ounces (50 grams) of freeze-dried blueberries per day.


Other studies have observed similar effects — especially for postmenopausal women.


SUMMARY

Regular blueberry intake is tied to lower blood pressure in numerous studies.


6. Blueberries may help prevent heart disease


While eating blueberries may lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL cholesterol, it’s important to keep in mind that these are risk factors — not actual diseases.


It would be much more informative to know whether blueberries help prevent hard endpoints like heart attacks, which are the world’s leading cause of death.


A study in 93,600 nurses found that those with the highest intake of anthocyanins — the main antioxidants in blueberries — were at a 32% lower risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intake.


Because this was an observational study, it cannot prove that the anthocyanins alone caused the reduction in risk. More studies are needed before any claims can be made.


SUMMARY

Some evidence indicates that eating fruits rich in anthocyanins — such as blueberries — is associated with a reduced risk of heart attacks.


7. Blueberries can help maintain brain function and improve memory


Oxidative stress can accelerate your brain’s aging process, negatively affecting brain function.


According to animal studies, the antioxidants in blueberries may affect areas of your brain that are essential for intelligence.


They appear to benefit aging neurons, leading to improvements in cell signaling.


Human studies have also yielded promising results. In one of these studies, nine older adults with mild cognitive impairment consumed blueberry juice every day. After 12 weeks, they experienced improvements in several markers of brain function.


A 6-year study in over 16,000 older individuals found that blueberries and strawberries were linked to delays in mental aging by up to 2.5 years.


SUMMARY

The antioxidants in blueberries seem to benefit your brain by aiding brain function and delaying mental decline.


8. Anthocyanins in blueberries may have anti-diabetes effects


Blueberries provide moderate amounts of sugar compared to other fruits.


One cup (148 grams) holds 15 grams of sugar, which is equivalent to a small apple or medium-sized orange. However, the bioactive compounds in blueberries appear to outweigh any negative impact of the sugar when it comes to managing blood sugar.


Research suggests that anthocyanins in blueberries have beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. These anti-diabetes effects have been observed with both fresh and freeze-dried berries.


In a study in 32 obese people with insulin resistance, two blueberry smoothies daily caused major improvements in insulin sensitivity. Improved insulin sensitivity may lower the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, which are associated with a range of negative health outcomes.


SUMMARY

Several studies demonstrate that blueberries have anti-diabetes effects, improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels.


9. May help fight urinary tract infections


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common problem for people assigned female at birth. It is widely believed that cranberry juice can help prevent these types of infections.


Because blueberries are closely related to cranberries, they boast many of the same active substances as cranberry juice.


These substances are called anti-adhesives and help prevent bacteria like E. coli from binding to the wall of your bladder.


While blueberry extract shows some promise for anti-adhesive effects, no studies have evaluated the impact of blueberries on UTIs, so it’s probably better to stick with cranberries for this purpose.


SUMMARY

Like cranberries, blueberries contain substances that can prevent certain bacteria from binding to the wall of your bladder. More research is needed to find out if blueberries can help prevent UTIs.


10. Blueberries may reduce muscle damage after strenuous exercise


Strenuous exercise can lead to muscle soreness and fatigue. This is driven partly by local inflammation and oxidative stress in your muscle tissue.


Blueberry supplements may lessen the damage that occurs at a molecular level, minimizing soreness and reduced muscle performance.


In a small study in 10 female athletes, blueberries accelerated muscle recovery after strenuous leg exercises.


SUMMARY

One study suggests that blueberries may aid muscle recovery after strenuous exercise, though more research is needed.


 

Blueberries are only one of many superfoods which may have significant health benefits. They are accessible and relatively cheap to purchase. One final nutrtient to single out is Vitamin C which  is essential for collagen production, and the high content found in blueberries helps to maintain healthy skin. Collagen helps to improve skin texture, prevent skin damage from the sun and pollution, and reduce wrinkles. As more studies are developed these benefits may be more firmly understood.

 

Blueberries are not only a delicious fruit but also a potent ally in maintaining good health. Incorporating blueberries into your diet can have significant benefits for your heart, brain, blood sugar, and inflammation, contributing to a healthier, more balanced lifestyle. Reap the rewards of this superfood by enjoying fresh blueberries, adding them to smoothies or yogurt, or even baking them into healthy treats. The versatility and health advantages of blueberries are a testament to the saying, "good things come in small packages."

 

Blueberries pack a nutritional punch that belies their tiny size. Bursting with flavour and nutrients, they offer a myriad of health benefits, making them an excellent addition to any diet.


If you or anyone you know would like a consultation, please make an appointment with Dr. Greig at Hong Kong Surgical Specialists.






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Tel: +852 2715 4577


 


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