(NaturalHealth365) Blueberries are rapidly becoming the darling of nutritionists, physicians and researchers for their power to minimize age-related cognitive decline. Now, recent research from Florida State University strongly suggests that they may have another superpower: the ability to help prevent heart disease.
The power of healthy nutrition revealed: a study conducted on postmenopausal women showed that as little as one cup of blueberries a day reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and reversing arterial stiffness.
Why is this research on blueberries so significant?
The study, published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, was randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled – factors considered to be the gold standard for research. It was conducted on 48 postmenopausal women, who are at greater risk for heart disease and have a higher incidence of hypertension and arterial stiffness.
The women also had either prehypertension or Stage 1 hypertension. Prehypertension is characterized by blood pressure of 120 to 139 mmHg over 80 to 90 mmHg – below the range for clinical hypertension, but still elevated over normal. Without treatment, prehypertension typically progresses to hypertension. Stage 1 hypertension is defined by readings of 140 to 159 mmHg over 90 to 99 mmHg – and is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
One group received 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder – equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries – while the other received a placebo. Both groups were instructed to continue their normal diet and exercise routines.
The results were stunning and achieved quickly
After a mere eight weeks, the blueberry group experienced a drop in their systolic blood pressure – the upper number in the reading – by 7 mmHg, or 5.1 percent, while their diastolic – or lower – reading dropped by 6.3 percent. They also had a 6.5 percent decrease in arterial stiffness.
In addition, the women increased their levels of beneficial nitric oxide levels by a very dramatic 68.5 percent – not bad results, considering all they had to do to achieve this was to consume the equivalent of a cup of ordinary berries daily for two months!
Nitric oxide, which dilates and relaxes blood vessels, plays an important role in decreasing arterial stiffness.
Lead researcher Sarah Johnson, the assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging, concluded that regular consumption of blueberries could delay prehypertension from developing to Stage 1 hypertension, thereby reducing cardiovascular risk.
Other studies support the heart-healthy effects of consuming blueberries
Although this study is the most recent, it is not the only one to demonstrate the cardioprotective properties of blueberries. In a study published in Circulation, blueberries and strawberries together decreased participants’ heart attack risk by up to 33 percent.
And, an animal study showcased the ability of blueberry supplementation to reduce cardiovascular risk factors by cutting harmful LDL cholesterol by 34 percent while raising desirable HDL cholesterol by 40 percent. Blueberry extracts also slashed levels of triglycerides and homocysteine – an inflammation-causing amino acid that affects artery walls – by 50 percent.
Blueberries have unparalleled antioxidant power
The antioxidant power of a food is measured by a scale called ORAC, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. With a truly phenomenal ORAC of 9,621, blueberries are one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the face of the earth. They are also highly anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective and anticancer.
In addition, they are one of the most nutrient-dense foods – with each berry packed with an amazing array of vitamins, minerals and disease-fighting polyphenols.
Blueberries are great sources of vitamin K, fiber, manganese and vitamin C – to name just a few of their nutrients. But the key to their healthful qualities is probably their rich stores of anthocyanins – plant pigments with disease-preventing properties – and their flavonoids, which include quercetin and resveratrol.
By the way, we know that both quercetin and resveratrol have been studied for their cancer-fighting, cardioprotective and potentially life-prolonging effects.
How can I use blueberries for heart health?
Although other studies have used higher amounts, the most recent study used 22 grams of freeze-dried powder, the equivalent of a cup of blueberries – easily spooned over cereal, mixed into a smoothie, or nibbled out of hand as a snack.
Also, interesting to note: freezing doesn’t seem to affect the health-giving properties of blueberries – good news, if fresh berries are unavailable. Of course, whenever possible, make sure your blueberries are organic. Organic berries have been proven in scientific studies to have higher antioxidant capabilities than conventionally grown berries.
So, there you have it. The humble blueberry is turning out to have potent therapeutic powers to rival those of cutting-edge pharmaceutical drugs – minus the toxic side effects. Eating a cup of these tasty berries a day could turn out to be a very smart move – and your heart will thank you for it.
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