The ‘blue’ in blueberries could reduce the risk of heart disease by 20 per cent, according to a new study.
Researchers found consuming 200g of blueberries a day for a month – a large punnet – improved blood vessel function and lowered blood pressure in healthy people.
Moreover, the study suggests that the ‘super’ berries could be just as effective as blood pressure pills prescribed by GPs from the doctor.
And it’s all because of a magical chemical which gives the berry it’s famous blue colouring, called anthocyanin.
High blood pressure is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases and if ignored, could lead to heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease.
Researchers at Kings College London analysed the effects of drinking blueberry juice every day for one month – and the results could be life saving.
Lead researcher Doctor Ana Rodriguez-Mateos said: ‘Although it is best to eat the whole blueberry to get the full benefit, our study finds that the majority of the effects can be explained by anthocyanins.
‘If the changes we saw in blood vessel function after eating blueberries every day could be sustained for a person’s whole life, it could reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by up to 20 per cent.
She continued: ‘Blueberries are rich in polyphenols, in particular anthocyanins, but also contain other phenolic compounds in smaller amounts such as procyanidins, flavonols and phenolic acids, as well as being a rich source of fibre, vitamins, and minerals.
‘Blueberries have initially been investigated due to their potential beneficial effects on age-dependent decline in cognitive function but were recently shown to improve cardiovascular function.
‘Data from the Nurse’s Heath Study II demonstrated that a high intake of blueberries and strawberries and the high intake of anthocyanins associated with it (as calculated based on food frequency questionnaires) was inversely associated with the risk of myocardial infarction.’
The study involving 40 participants were either given a drink containing 200g of blueberries to drink every day or a placebo.
Blood pressure, urine and blood of all of the volunteers was tested, as well as their flow-mediated dilation (FMD) which measures how much the artery widens when blood flow increases.
Researchers compared the results of the blueberry and placebo drinkers and discovered that purified anthocyanins – the phytochemical which gives fruit and vegetables a blue, red, pink or purple colour – had a dramatic impact on blood pressure levels.
They found drinking 200g of blueberries, blood vessel function significantly improved – within just two hours.
After one month of drinking the juice daily, blood pressure reduced by 5mmHg – a similar drop experienced by people who rely on blood lowering medication.
The drinks containing purified anthocyanins also led to improvements in endothelial function – which is crucial in regulating blood pressure and blood clotting.
Dr Rodriguez-Mateos said: ‘While blueberries contain many potentially ‘healthy’ bioactive molecules including vitamins, fibre and minerals, our present results demonstrate that anthocyanins are major bioactive compounds in blueberry that can account for the increases in endothelial function after blueberry consumption.
‘Our data demonstrate for the first time that purified anthocyanins cause dose-dependent improvements in endothelial function.
‘In conclusion, our results demonstrate a key role of anthocyanin metabolites in the mediation of biological activities of blueberries that could contribute to healthy cardiovascular ageing.
‘We provide further scientific evidence that in healthy humans chronic blueberry consumption leads to sustained cardiovascular benefits which are linked with circulating anthocyanin metabolites and the modulation of cellular gene programs towards an anti-inflammatory and CVD protective profile.’
The study was published in the Journal of Gerontology Series A.