When it comes to a superfood, you don’t get much more super than blueberries. The little blue fruits, also known as bilberries, whinberries and blaeberries, are said to be jam packed with health-boosting compounds which may slow the ageing process, as well as helping to protect against common ailments such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
A study, by scientists at the US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Center, found that blueberries come top in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants help to mop up harmful by-products of metabolism in the blood called free radicals.
Scientists have also detected other chemicals in the berries which reduce harmful cholesterol levels and even prevent bladder infections.
Blueberries have been used to treat a range of conditions, including dementia and cystitis since mediaeval times. Now it seems that the old wives knew what they were doing. Blueberries may not be a cure all, but they do have definite health benefits.
Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that ageing mice who were given blueberry extract improved their balance, coordination and short term memory. Anthocyanin, which gives the blueberries their strong purple colour, appears to protect the neurons in the brain.
Blueberries, along with other colourful fruits and vegetables, contain high levels of antioxidants. These compounds help to mop up damaging oxygen free radicals in the blood, which can damage cell membranes and DNA through a process known as oxidative stress. Free radicals cause many of the physical signs of ageing.
Recent work indicates that blueberries contain compounds having anti-cancer properties. They act to induce enzymes that protect against cancer and reduce rapid tumour growth. Antioxidants also help to prevent or delay the onset of certain diseases, such as cancer.
In Sweden, dried blueberries are used to treat childhood diarrhoea. Anthocyanoside compounds are believed to kill the E. Coli bacteria, which is sometimes linked to the infection.
Researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey have identified a compound in blueberries that promotes urinary tract health and reduces the risk of infection. It appears to work by preventing bacteria from adhering to the cells that line the walls of the urinary tract.
Blueberries may reduce the build up of so called “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to scientists at the University of California at Davis. Dr Agnes Rimando, of the US department of Agriculture team said: “We are excited to learn that blueberries, which are already known to be rich in healthy compounds, may also be a potent weapon in the battle against obesity and heart disease.” The active compounds in blueberries act in two ways: They reduce the oxidation of LDLs, which can result in lowering of arterial plaque build-up, and they reduce the stickiness of blood platelets, which can lower the tendency to form blood clots.
Blueberries seem to be able to boost night vision. One study showed that when Israeli fighter pilots were given regular doses of blueberry, their night vision significantly improved. Scientists believe that this happens because compounds in the berries enhance capillary elasticity and permeability of the eye.
Blueberries are a rich source of folic acid, which may benefit the foetus during pregnancy.
The more fibre in your diet, the better your digestive health. Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fibre. A handful of the berries contain around one tenth of the daily recommended intake of dietary fibre.