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From pies, puddings, and cakes to smoothies and cocktails, the ways to consume blueberries are endless. This tiny berry is packed full of nutrition. It supports the heart, eyes, brain, digestive system, and skin. It may also improve cholesterol profiles, blood sugar levels, and insulin resistance whilst protecting us from cancer.

What makes blueberries so great?

Older adults are susceptible to cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, including cognitive decline, and blueberries can offer some protection. They’re high in polyphenols called anthocyanins, which have been shown to support heart health and may also be beneficial for the brain.

In a study published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at how eating wild blueberries affected the brain and blood vessels of older adults. They also wanted to see whether blueberries increased blood flow in the blood vessels and brain, and whether their consumption led to changes in gut bacteria that benefited heart and brain function.

Whilst there have been many studies showing the health benefits of blueberries, these researchers chose to focus on several specific effects on healthy older adults. They examined how daily consumption impacted both vascular and cognitive function, wanting to determine whether the effects were due to changes in blood vessels or the gut microbiome.

The Study

The study lasted 12 weeks and included 61 healthy older individuals aged 65 to 80. It was structured so that neither the researchers nor the patients knew whether they were getting a placebo or the freeze-dried wild blueberry powder, which was equivalent to about 178 grams of whole berries.

Baseline measurements were taken at the start of the study and the end of the 12 weeks.

The Results

When assessed, participants who consumed wild blueberry powder displayed better memory and greater mental flexibility than those in the placebo group. The group consuming blueberries also showed a greater reduction in blood pressure over the 12 weeks compared to those not consuming blueberries.

There were improvements in other indicators of cardiovascular health, but the composition of gut bacteria and cerebral blood flow showed no change.

Benefits of the Compounds Found in Blueberries

When it comes to brain and heart health, blueberries contain several nutrients with many known benefits. The most important of these are anthocyanins, the substances that give blueberries their color. But they do much more:

· Anthocyanins Increase nitric oxide levels. Nitric oxide is a molecule that relaxes blood vessels, improves blood flow, and reduces blood pressure.

· Their anti-inflammatory properties protect blood vessels, keeping them clear and flexible.

· They contain antioxidants that help keep free radicals in check. Too many free radicals cause damage to the body, contributing to aging and the risk of disease.

· They improve endothelial function: The endothelium is the thin layer of cells lining the inside of blood vessels. Anthocyanins help keep these cells healthy and functioning properly, allowing them to regulate blood flow, blood clotting, and inflammation. This is crucial for optimal vascular health.

Blueberries also contain:

  • vitamin C, a vitamin crucial for immune function and collagen production;
  • Vitamin K1, which is essential for blood clotting and bone health;
  • Manganese, a mineral supporting metabolism, brain function, and antioxidant activity;
  • Fiber, which aids digestion, regulates blood sugar, and promotes gut health; and
  • Potassium, which is important for electrolyte balance and blood pressure control.

Blueberries for breakfast?

The study showed that consuming wild blueberries daily for 12 weeks improved vascular function, enhanced cognitive performance, and slightly decreased blood pressure in healthy older adults.

This suggests that adding them to your daily diet could be a good way to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and promote cognitive health. So, consider starting your day with some blueberries in your smoothie or yogurt.

These tiny gems might just be the key to keeping your heart and brain healthier for longer.

References

1. Wood E, Hein S, Mesnage R, Fernandes F, Abhayaratne N, Xu Y, Zhang Z, Bell L, Williams C, Rodriguez-Mateos A. Wild blueberry (poly)phenols can improve vascular function and cognitive performance in healthy older individuals: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2023 Jun;117(6):1306-1319. doi: 10.1016/j.ajcnut.2023.03.017. Epub 2023 Mar 25. PMID: 36972800; PMCID: PMC10315404.

 

Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule

Desiree Pule is a graduate in Sports Sciences and has an MBA. She has worked in the medical industry, distribution and manufacturing for many decades. She has taken her years of business experience and her passion for health and launched Alma Herbs, an online store selling only the best natural food and remedies. You can take a look at their bespoke offering: https://almaherbs.co.za/product/organic-turmeric-powder-200g/

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