Blueberries are delicious and nutritious. It would be a bonus if they could also reduce the risk of heart disease. The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, therefore, helped fund a study to investigate the potential benefit of blueberries for heart health. And recent study reveals 1 cup of blueberries per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers from East Anglia University in the United Kingdom have collaborated with scientists from Harvard University in Cambridge, MA. In particular, they wanted to understand whether regular consumption of blueberries could alter people with metabolic syndrome’s metabolic profile.
Metabolic syndrome describes a cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, excess waist body fat, high levels of blood sugar, and abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. These factors together increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes of type 2. More than one-third of adults in the U.S. are currently affected by metabolic syndrome. With some experts calling it a global epidemic.
“Previous studies have shown that people who eat blueberries regularly have a reduced risk of developing conditions including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says lead researcher Prof. Aedin Cassidy.
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“This,” she says, “maybe because blueberries are high in compounds that occur naturally called anthocyanins.” Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that may appear red, black, blue, or purple. These flavonoids are found in many higher plants’ tissues — including stems, leaves, flowers, roots, and fruits.
Previous studies revealed a relationship between increased consumption of anthocyanin and reduced risk of mortality. Others linked these chemicals to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
To date, however, much of the research has been conducted over a relatively short period of time. In fact, some studies have focused on consuming just one portion of blueberries.
In a population with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, there have also been no randomized controlled trials investigating the potential of blueberries to protect against disease.
How Does Study reveal 1 Cup Of Blueberries Per Day Reduces The Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease?
Blueberry Powder Testing
The team recruited 115 participants from 50 to 75 years of age to investigate. All of whom were either overweight or obese and had metabolic syndrome. The study took six months to complete, making it the longest of its kind.
Importantly, the scientists used blueberries “dietarily achievable levels” rather than expecting the participants to consume an unsustainable and unrealistic amount of blueberries every day.
Participants were divided into three groups:
- one group consumed 1 cup (150 grams) of frozen powdered blueberries per day.
- Another group consumed half a cup of frozen powdered blueberries (75 grams) per day.
- The final group acted as a control group, receiving a powder similar to blueberry powder. But primarily containing dextrose, maltodextrin, and fructose.
The researchers evaluated biomarkers for insulin resistance, lipid status, and vascular function at the beginning and end of the trial. In the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they recently published their findings.
Interestingly, scientists saw only the benefits in the group that consumed 1 cup of blueberries per day.
Dr. Curtis believes that this is because “higher daily intakes may be needed for cardiac health benefits in obese populations at risk compared to the general population.” It should also be noted that the blueberry intervention did not alter the other parameters measured by the scientists.
Explanation of The Benefits of Blueberries
Scientists believe the cardiovascular benefits they have seen are due primarily to the presence of anthocyanins in blueberries.
The body metabolizes anthocyanins in the lower intestine to produce a range of chemicals. Some of these chemicals provide the resident gut bacteria with sustenance and are “likely to play a key beneficial metabolic role,” the authors of the study said.
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They are offering some examples. Some researchers have shown that the vascular endothelial cells in the laboratory benefit from syringic acid. It is a chemical produced by anthocyanin metabolism.
Similarly, researchers have found that vanillic acid, another breakdown product, decreases rat hypertension. “The simple and achievable message is to consume 1 cup of blueberries daily in order to improve cardiovascular health,” concludes Dr. Curtis.
It is worth mentioning at this point that other foods contain anthocyanin, including blackcurrants, black and red raspberries, blackberries, red cabbage, prunes, red radish, black carrots, and purple potatoes.
While this project was the first long-term, placebo-controlled study to examine blueberries and cardiovascular and metabolic health. It is important to remember that this trial was completed by only 115 participants.
In the end, there remained in the group only 37 participants consuming 1 cup of blueberries a day. Blueberries, like most other fruits and vegetables, are likely to be a healthy addition to any diet. However, to confirm the clinical benefits of blueberries, scientists will need to conduct larger studies. So far, the study reveals 1 cup of blueberries per day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.