Focus on Prebiotics: Go Wild for Blueberries!

Whether you sprinkle them into your oatmeal, bake them into muffins, blend them in smoothies, or snack on them straight out of the container, blueberries evoke the sweet essence of peaceful summer days—no matter what time of the year it happens to be.

But blueberries offer so much more than just a joyful taste experience—they’re also one of the best prebiotic foods around, and they’re positively loaded with nutritional goodness. Discover the unique benefits of this beloved summer fruit, and how including blueberries in your diet can help you achieve vibrant wellness from head to toe.

All About Blueberries

Juicy blueberries are members of the Vaccinium family of perennial flowering plants—which also includes bilberries, grouseberries, huckleberries, and cranberries. Most of the blueberries you can find at supermarkets and local farm stands are native to North America, making blueberries even more American than apple pie!

Nutritionally, blueberries are a true superfood. They’re low in calories but highly nutrient-dense and loaded with prebiotic fiber to provide your beneficial gut flora the nutrition they need as well. Some of the many vital nutrients contained in each yummy handful include:

• Vitamin B6
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin K
Folate
• Manganese
• Copper
• Potassium

Blueberries are also an excellent source of antioxidants—particularly the health-building anthocyanins that give this fruit its signature deep blue pigments.

Blueberries and Your Gut: Perfect BFFs

Glowing mind and body health begins in the gut, so it’s essential to care for your digestive tract in order to feel your best. Since blueberry fiber is such a terrific prebiotic, it makes sense that eating blueberries would be a great way to give your gut the TLC it requires—and that is exactly what the latest scientific research is revealing. In a very recent study, scientists fed a group of rats a high-fat diet for eight weeks, along with blueberry powder. Despite the otherwise unhealthy diet, these rats experienced some very exciting positive biological changes, likely due to the prebiotic and antioxidant power of blueberries:1
• The composition of their microbiomes improved, with increases in beneficial probiotic species such as Bifidobacteria (which is especially important for maintaining wellness as we age), along with other strains associated with healthy metabolic function and insulin signaling.
• The integrity of their GI tracts strengthened, reducing the risk of toxins leaking out into their bloodstreams.
• Inflammation markers normalized.
• Insulin sensitivity improved.
• Negative high-fat-diet-induced changes in ileum villi height lessened.

Other blueberry research backs up many of these important findings. In another animal study, rats receiving blueberry-enriched diets also saw an increase in their gut Bifidobacteria populations, along with strengthened gut barriers and reduced temporary inflammatory responses.2 And the results of a human study showed that wild blueberries demonstrated good potential for raising GI tract Bifidobacteria numbers and supporting overall gut health.3

More Blueberry Wellness Perks

Bumping up microbial vitality would be reason enough to reach for prebiotic foods like blueberries whenever you feel hungry. But blueberries offer so much more! The dynamic combination of prebiotics, antioxidants, and nutrients they contain works in harmony with your body to keep you healthy in all these wonderful ways:

Reduced oxidative impact
Blueberries contain one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants of any food—and they’re also rich in some of the most beneficial types of antioxidants, including flavonoids, phenols, and anthocyanins.4 One recent study found that people who drank blueberry juice daily for four weeks reduced free-radical induced oxidative DNA damage by 20%.5 And the antioxidants in blueberries begin to work almost immediately—just one hour after eating wild blueberry powder, subjects in a British study increased their serum antioxidant status by over 8%.6

Healthy weight
Blueberries are low in calories, high in fiber, and they contain lots of chemical compounds associated with strong metabolism and optimum weight.7 Supplementing with blueberry juice prevented excess weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet, and rats carrying extra pounds were able to reduce their belly fat when blueberries were added to their daily meal plan.8,9

Mental sharpness at every stage of life
Whether you’re a grade schooler or a grandparent (or anything in between!), blueberries are serious brain food. A study involving 7-10 year-old children showed that supplementing with wild blueberries improved both memory and cognition.10 Blueberries also improve brain power in older adults—even those who are already experiencing cognitive issues. A number of scientific trials show that consuming blueberries improves memory and brain function in the elderly, as well as delays further decline.11,12

Protection at the cellular level
To stay well, your individual cells need to cooperate as a team. Blueberry research indicates that eating this tasty fruit seems to be an effective way to encourage all the cells of your body to function together in a healthy way. Multiple animal and in vitro studies highlight an association between blueberries and cellular health in breast, stomach, prostate, and intestinal cells.13,14,15

Cardiovascular vitality
Blueberries support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels and help to maintain suppleness of arteries—even in people who are carrying extra weight or don’t exercise.16,17 What makes these findings even more exciting is that cardiovascular benefits can take place in as little as six weeks of daily blueberry consumption.18

Healthy blood sugar levels
Multiple studies suggest that both blueberry juice and extract seem to encourage healthy insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, even in those with weight issues.19,20,21,22

Comfortable digestion and elimination
Prebiotic-rich blueberries help keep you feeling good at every stage of the digestive process. Taken along with probiotics, blueberries may relieve temporary tummy discomfort—and blueberry fiber also helps keep you regular.23,24

Efficient workout recovery
Exercise may be great for you, but sometimes strenuous workouts can leave you feeling anything but. Thankfully, blueberries seem to speed the repair of overworked muscles at the molecular level, to soothe soreness and keep your athletic performance at its peak.25

Boost Your Blueberry Benefits

You’ll get the most from your blueberries when you reduce pesticide loads by choosing organic, locally grown fruit, and always washing your berries thoroughly before you enjoy them. While all varieties of blueberries are nutritious, wild blueberries actually have the highest levels of anthocyanins.26

Even when you favor gut healthy foods like blueberries, it can still be challenging to get enough prebiotic fiber in your diet—and our modern lifestyle can be tough on the microbiome in general. To keep your gut in balance (and maintain glowing health), consider supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15, and stirring an organic prebiotic powder into your favorite smoothies and soft foods.

For such a tiny fruit, blueberries pack a surprising burst of microbial magic. And of all the many lifestyle changes you can make to enhance your health, it would be hard to find one that could possibly be more delicious!

References:

1. Lee, S., Keirsey, K. I., Kirkland, R., Grunewald, Z. I., Fischer, J. G., & De La Serre, C. B. (2018). Blueberry Supplementation Influences the Gut Microbiota, Inflammation, and Insulin Resistance in High-Fat-Diet–Fed Rats. The Journal of Nutrition, 148(2), 209-219. doi:10.1093/jn/nxx027

2. Lacombe, A., Li, R. W., Klimis-Zacas, D., Kristo, A. S., Tadepalli, S., Krauss, E., … Wu, V. C. (2013). Lowbush Wild Blueberries have the Potential to Modify Gut Microbiota and Xenobiotic Metabolism in the Rat Colon. PLoS ONE, 8(6), e67497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0067497

3. Guglielmetti, S., Fracassetti, D., Taverniti, V., Del Bo’, C., Vendrame, S., Klimis-Zacas, D., … Porrini, M. (2013). Differential Modulation of Human Intestinal Bifidobacterium Populations after Consumption of a Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) Drink. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 61(34), 8134-8140. doi:10.1021/jf402495k

4. Huang, W., Zhang, H., Liu, W., & Li, C. (2012). Survey of antioxidant capacity and phenolic composition of blueberry, blackberry, and strawberry in Nanjing. Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE B, 13(2), 94-102. doi:10.1631/jzus.b1100137

5. Wilms, L. C., Boots, A. W., De Boer, V. C., Maas, L. M., Pachen, D. M., Gottschalk, R. W., … Kleinjans, J. C. (2007). Impact of multiple genetic polymorphisms on effects of a 4-week blueberry juice intervention on ex vivo induced lymphocytic DNA damage in human volunteers. Carcinogenesis, 28(8), 1800-1806. doi:10.1093/carcin/bgm145

6. Kay, C. D., & Holub, B. J. (2002). The effect of wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) consumption on postprandial serum antioxidant status in human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 88(04), 389. doi:10.1079/bjn2002665

7. Shi, M., Loftus, H., McAinch, A. J., & Su, X. Q. (2017). Blueberry as a source of bioactive compounds for the treatment of obesity, type 2 diabetes and chronic inflammation. Journal of Functional Foods, 30, 16-29. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2016.12.036

8. Wu, T., Tang, Q., Gao, Z., Yu, Z., Song, H., Zheng, X., & Chen, W. (2013). Blueberry and Mulberry Juice Prevent Obesity Development in C57BL/6 Mice. PLoS ONE, 8(10), e77585. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077585

9. Seymour, E. M., Tanone, I. I., Urcuyo-Llanes, D. E., Lewis, S. K., Kirakosyan, A., Kondoleon, M. G., … Bolling, S. F. (2011). Blueberry Intake Alters Skeletal Muscle and Adipose Tissue Peroxisome Proliferator-Activated Receptor Activity and Reduces Insulin Resistance in Obese Rats. Journal of Medicinal Food, 14(12), 1511-1518. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.0292

10. Whyte, A. R., Schafer, G., & Williams, C. M. (2015). Cognitive effects following acute wild blueberry supplementation in 7- to 10-year-old children. European Journal of Nutrition, 55(6), 2151-2162. doi:10.1007/s00394-015-1029-4

11. Devore, E. E., Kang, J. H., Breteler, M. M., & Grodstein, F. (2012). Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of Neurology, 72(1), 135-143. doi:10.1002/ana.23594

12. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M. D., Nash, T. A., Kalt, W., Vinqvist-Tymchuk, M. R., Shukitt-Hale, B., & Joseph, J. A. (2010). Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults†. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(7), 3996-4000. doi:10.1021/jf9029332

13. Adams, L. S., Phung, S., Yee, N., Seeram, N. P., Li, L., & Chen, S. (2010). Blueberry Phytochemicals Inhibit Growth and Metastatic Potential of MDA-MB-231 Breast Cancer Cells through Modulation of the Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinase Pathway. Cancer Research, 70(9), 3594-3605. doi:10.1158/0008-5472.can-09-3565

14. Aiyer, H., Srinivasan, C., & Gupta, R. (2008). Dietary Berries and Ellagic Acid Diminish Estrogen-Mediated Mammary Tumorigenesis ∈ ACI rats. Nutrition and Cancer, 60(2), 227-234. doi:10.1080/01635580701624712

15. Boivin D, Blanchette M, Barrette S, Moghrabi A, Béliveau R. (2007). Inhibition of cancer cell proliferation and suppression of TNF-induced activation of NFkappaB by edible berry juice. Anticancer Research, 27(2):937-48.

16. Johnson, S. A., Figueroa, A., Navaei, N., Wong, A., Kalfon, R., Ormsbee, L. T., … Arjmandi, B. H. (2015). Daily Blueberry Consumption Improves Blood Pressure and Arterial Stiffness in Postmenopausal Women with Pre- and Stage 1-Hypertension: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(3), 369-377. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.11.001

17. Basu, A., Du, M., Leyva, M. J., Sanchez, K., Betts, N. M., Wu, M., … Lyons, T. J. (2010). Blueberries Decrease Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Obese Men and Women with Metabolic Syndrome. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(9), 1582-1587. doi:10.3945/jn.110.124701

18. McAnulty, L. S., Collier, S. R., Landram, M. J., Whittaker, D. S., Isaacs, S. E., Klemka, J. M., … McAnulty, S. R. (2014). Six weeks daily ingestion of whole blueberry powder increases natural killer cell counts and reduces arterial stiffness in sedentary males and females. Nutrition Research, 34(7), 577-584. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.07.002

19. Vuong, T., Martineau, L. C., Ramassamy, C., Matar, C., & Haddad, P. S. (2007). Fermented Canadian lowbush blueberry juice stimulates glucose uptake and AMP-activated protein kinase in insulin-sensitive cultured muscle cells and adipocytes. This article is one of a selection of papers published in this special issue (part 1 of 2) on the Safety and Efficacy of Natural Health Products. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 85(9), 956-965. doi:10.1139/y07-090

20. Martineau, L. C., Couture, A., Spoor, D., Benhaddou-Andaloussi, A., Harris, C., Meddah, B., … Haddad, P. S. (2006). Anti-diabetic properties of the Canadian lowbush blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium Ait. Phytomedicine, 13(9-10), 612-623. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2006.08.005

21. Abidov M, Ramazanov A, Jimenez del rio M, Chkhikvishvili I. (2006). Effect of Blueberin on fasting glucose, C-reactive protein and plasma aminotransferases, in female volunteers with diabetes type 2: double-blind, placebo controlled clinical study. Georgian Medical News, (141):66-72.

22. Stull, A. J., Cash, K. C., Johnson, W. D., Champagne, C. M., & Cefalu, W. T. (2010). Bioactives in Blueberries Improve Insulin Sensitivity in Obese, Insulin-Resistant Men and Women. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(10), 1764-1768. doi:10.3945/jn.110.125336

23. Osman N, Adawi D, Ahrne S, Jeppsson B, Molin G. (2008) Probiotics and blueberry attenuate the severity of dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis. Chemico-Biological Interactions, 53: 2464–2473.

24. Yang, J. (2012). Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 18(48), 7378. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i48.7378

25. McLeay, Y., Barnes, M. J., Mundel, T., Hurst, S. M., Hurst, R. D., & Stannard, S. R. (2012). Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 19. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-19

26. Hosseinian, F. S., & Beta, T. (2007). Saskatoon and Wild Blueberries Have Higher Anthocyanin Contents than Other Manitoba Berries. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 55(26), 10832-10838. doi:10.1021/jf072529m

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Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.

 

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