What does the science show us on the health benefits of blueberries?
Blueberries contain antioxidants that help protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals and chronic diseases associated with the aging process.
Fresh fruits, including blueberries, and vegetables contain many of these naturally occurring antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E. Blueberries contain 14 mg of Vitamin C and .8 mg of Vitamin E per 1 cup of blueberries. In addition, blueberries contain anthocyanins and phenolics that can also act as antioxidants. Based on data from the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (Boston, MA), blueberries are among the fruits with the highest antioxidant activity. Using a test called ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity), researchers have shown that one serving of fresh blueberries can provide more antioxidant activity than 5 servings of many other fresh fruits and vegetables.
In a USDA Human Nutrition Research Center laboratory, neuroscientists discovered that feeding blueberries to laboratory rats slowed age-related loss in their mental capacity, a finding that has important implications for humans. In one study, Jim Joseph, director of the neuroscience laboratory in the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center (HNRC), fed blueberry extraction – the equivalent of a human eating one cup of blueberries a day – to mice and then ran them through a series of motor skills tests. He found that the blueberry-fed mice performed better than their control group counterparts in motor behavioral learning and memory, and he noticed an increase in exploratory behavior. When he examined their brains, he found a marked decrease in oxidative stress in two regions of the brain and better retention of signal-transmitting neurons compared with the control mice.
The compound that appears responsible for this neuron protection, anthocyanin, also give blueberries their color and might be the key component of the blueberry’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Blueberries, along with other colorful fruits and vegetables, test high in their ability to subdue free radicals. These free radicals, which can damage cell membranes and DNA through a process known as oxidative stress, are blamed for many of the dysfunctions and diseases associated with aging. These findings could become increasingly important as the U.S. population ages. It is projected that by 2050, more than 30% of Americans will be over 65 and will have the decreased cognitive and motor function that accompanies advanced age. Joseph is currently testing the effects of blueberries on humans. Preliminary results show that people who ate a cup of blueberries a day have performed 5-6% better on motor skills tests than the control group.
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