(NaturalHealth365) With millions of baby boomers closing in on age 65, the American population is aging at an unprecedented rate. The Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics predicts that by 2030, boomers over age 65 will be 72 million strong.
As they enter their “golden years,” they will be accompanied by an increased vulnerability to age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and congestive heart failure.
Natural ways to prevent, even reverse degenerative disease
The good news is that a powerful weapon against degenerative diseases is already freely available, and sold by the pint. And you don’t even need to visit a pharmacy to obtain it – it can be found in the produce aisle of your local market.
Vaccinium myrtillus, otherwise known as the blueberry, has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capabilities. In fact, it has the highest score for antioxidant capacity per serving of all fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices tested to date – it’s no surprise that the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging has named blueberries one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
Blueberries are specifically designed to prevent disease
By reducing free radical and inflammatory damage in the brain, blueberries help to reverse the degenerative changes seen in aging neurons. Their ability to neutralize free radical damage in the collagen matrix of tissues helps them ward off degenerative and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, while their bluish-reddish pigments, or anthocyanins, improve the integrity of support structures in the joints.
And, they can decrease the “stickiness” of blood platelets, making them important players in the fight against atherosclerosis.
Can blueberries improve cognitive function?
Numerous animal, test tube and human studies have all supported blueberries’ ability to reduce signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, alleviate age-related cognitive deficits and improve memory.
In a 2006 animal study published in Neurobiology of Aging, researchers found that blueberry extracts helped older rats regain their ability to generate heat shock protein 70 – a substance that protects against stress and inflammation in the brain.
While young rats generate this substance in abundance in response to stress, elderly rats typically produce very little. After the elderly rats’ diet was supplemented with blueberry extracts for 10 weeks, their heat shock response was restored to that of youthful, vigorous rats, leading researchers to conclude that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of blueberries could alleviate age-related cognitive deficits.
A year earlier, a study published in Pharmacological Research, had demonstrated that rats given blueberry extracts for 30 days had significant improvements in cognitive function, causing researchers to conclude that blueberries could be beneficial in preventing age-related memory deficits.
Another 2005 study, published in Nutrition and Neuroscience, showed that blueberry extracts are capable of crossing the blood brain barrier and localizing in the sections of the brain responsible for memory and learning. Significantly, the more blueberry extracts found in the cortex of the brain, the more pronounced the improvement in cognitive performance.
Can you prove that blueberries improve brain function?
Yes! In a small but controlled clinical study published in 2010 in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 12 weeks of daily consumption of wild blueberry juice caused improved recall, learning and comprehension in elderly volunteers who had been diagnosed with age-related memory changes. Researchers credited anthocyanins in blueberries with increasing neuronal signaling, and concluded that blueberries could afford cognitive benefits.
And the news keeps getting better…
Scientists have found that blueberries protect the endothelium, or inner cell wall of the arteries, thereby cutting atherosclerosis risk, and with it, the risk for heart attacks and strokes. Prevention of the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, and reducing the aggregation of platelets – two more of blueberries’ gifts – also help delay or avoid the onset of atherosclerosis.
In a study published in 2010 in Journal of Nutrition, blueberry powder given for 20 weeks caused rats to have smaller atherosclerotic lesions than those in the control group. Researchers noted that the blueberry powder boosted levels of antioxidant enzymes and reduced the oxidative stress and inflammation that contributes to atherosclerosis.
Blueberries and probiotics are a powerful combination
Blueberries protect against inflammatory digestive diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and IBS – especially when eaten with probiotic foods.
In a 2010 study conducted at Lund University Faculty of Engineering in Sweden, researchers found that the protective effects of blueberries against ulcerative colitis were even more pronounced when the berries were eaten along with probiotics, such as the lactobacillus found in live yogurt cultures.
Combining blueberries and probiotics cut down the numbers of inflammation-promoting bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, and also raised blood levels of immune system-boosting butyric and proprionic acids.
What are the best blueberries to eat for health benefits?
Wild blueberries score highest for antioxidants and polyphenols, but farm-grown, cultivated blueberries aren’t too far behind. If you have access to wild blueberry plants, it can be very rewarding to harvest your own. Naturally, take care that the berries have been properly identified, and that the area is free of pesticides and animal waste.
Many small, local blueberry farms allow you to pick your own berries; if this isn’t feasible, look for fresh, organic blueberries at your local market or produce stand. Select berries with intense, violet-blue coloration and a whitish “bloom” on the surface. Berries should be firm, plump and intact, and should move freely in their container when it’s shaken.
Avoid washing blueberries until right before you are ready to eat them, and opt for raw, whole berries rather than those that have been cooked, stewed or preserved; heating them can lower their anthocyanin levels.
However, if you’ve picked or purchased too many berries, don’t hesitate to freeze them. Repeated experiments have shown that frozen blueberries retain virtually all their beneficial phytochemicals. And, finally, fresh, unwashed blueberries may be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for up to three days.
Fresh blueberries, one of the gustatory pleasures of summer, are more than just a sweet, refreshing snack – researchers have shown that this superfood can help protect against chronic and degenerative disease. As an entire generation prepares to transition from “middle-aged” to “elderly,” the timing couldn’t be better.
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