Blueberry Thrills?

I know blueberries are good for you, but I’m not sure what they do. Can you bring me up to date on their health benefits?

– July 17, 2006

I’m a big fan of all berries, including blueberries. They’re delicious and pack a powerful antioxidant punch: a half cup of blueberries is equivalent to the antioxidant power of five servings of peas, carrots, apples, squash or broccoli. Anthocyanins, the pigments that make blueberries blue, are responsible for their antioxidant properties. Blueberries are also a good source of fiber – a half-cup serving gives you almost three grams.

We’re just beginning to learn about the health benefits of blueberries. Here’s a sampling of what studies so far have revealed:

  • Cancer: Studies at the University of Illinois have suggested that compounds in wild blueberries may help prevent cancer by inhibiting the initiation and promotion stages of tumor development.
  • Urinary tract infections: Researchers at Rutgers University have found that like cranberries, blueberries may protect against infections because they contain compounds that prevent bacteria from adhering to bladder walls.
  • Stroke: Animal studies at Canada’s University of Prince Edward Island suggest that blueberries may protect the brain from stroke damage.
  • Heart disease: Animal studies at the University of Maine suggest that wild blueberries may reduce heart disease risks by protecting blood vessels in the heart from oxidative stress and inflammation. At the University of California at Davis, researchers have found that blueberries may reduce the buildup of cholesterol that contributes to heart disease and stroke, possibly an effect of a novel antioxidant, pterostilbene.
  • Aging: In animal studies, researchers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that blueberries may improve motor skills and reverse age-related short term memory loss.

No one knows for sure that the results of animal studies will translate to humans, but I’m optimistic that further research will show that these compounds have an important role to play in preventing cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurological diseases. I recommend regularly adding blueberries and other berries to your diet. I eat them frequently (and always buy organically grown varieties).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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