It’s no secret these days that one of the categories of foods and nutritional supplements that is considered the most healthy is highly colored fruits and vegetables. The benefits of grape, pomegranate, tomato, carrots and berries are now widely touted. You have heard the terms resveratrol, polyphenols, anthocyanins, for example, is these types of foods and supplements are where those are found.
We are still uncovering the actual, specific health benefits of these substances.
Some new research on wild blueberries, for example, show that they have the potential to decrease the vulnerability of heart blood vessels to oxidative stress and inflammatory insults in animal models. According to a study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2006 Feb; 17(2): 109- 16., wild blueberry phenolic compounds may have a beneficial effect on cellular signaling within the vascular environment.
"This is the first study to document the positive effect of a wild blueberry-enriched diet on the composition and structure of the extracellular matrix of Sprague-Dawley rat aortas, which may result in lower binding of the LDL particle on the arterial wall reducing the risk from atherosclerosis," said Dr. Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Nutrition and lead researcher from the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Maine, Orono. According to Dr. Klimis-Zacas, cardiovascular disease begins as a result of oxidative stress and inflammatory responses in the vascular environment. "Our investigation of the potential of natural antioxidants like those found in wild blueberries to combat the precursors to cardiovascular disease is part of a broader research movement to gain a better understanding of the role of diet in disease prevention."
This recent research is only the latest in a long list of similar studies. Earlier work, for example, at the University of Maine, demonstrated the positive effect of a wild blueberry-based diet on animal-model blood vessel function. (Journal of Medicinal Food, Vol. 8, No. 1:8-13, March 2005.) This has implications on blood pressure regulation and ultimately cardiovascular disease.
A new set of studies was recently presented at the 2006 Experimental Biology Conference in San Francisco, CA by Dr. Klimis-Zacas and her team including post-doctoral fellow Dr. Anastasia Kalea, and graduate student Kate Clark. (Experimental Biology 2006, Late Breaking Abstract #394). The University of Maine research team was the first to observe greater arterial vasorelaxation in spontaneously hypertensive animals fed a wild blueberry diet for 8 weeks compared to spontaneously hypertensive animals fed control diets. These findings suggest that wild blueberries affect cell-signaling pathways in hypertension and their consumption may result in blood pressure regulation.
According to Susan Davis, MS, RD, Nutrition Advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA), Dr. Klimis-Zacas' work expands on the importance of Wild Blueberries in helping fend off diseases of aging, like cardiovascular disease. "Dr. Klimis-Zacas' work helps build the case for including phytonutrient-rich foods in the diet for good nutrition and disease prevention," said Davis. "Colorful foods like Wild Blueberries should be the cornerstone of a healthy diet."
Davis noted that recent USDA research findings using the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) measure ranked Wild Blueberries highest in antioxidant capacity per serving, compared with more than 20 other fruits. The study showed that a one-cup serving of Wild Blueberries had more antioxidant capacity than a serving of cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, apples, and even cultivated blueberries. (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 52:4026-4037, 2004.)
Antioxidants are important in terms of their ability to protect against oxidative cell damage that can<