Together with the US Department of Agriculture, the North American Blueberry Council declares July “National Blueberry Month.” The blueberry may be small, but it’s packed with healthy compounds responsible for both the berry’s color and several properties that protect against human diseases. At the NC Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, scientists devote their studies to explaining just how beneficial blueberries can be.
- Blueberries Boost Brain Function and Reduce Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
Blueberries contain polyphenols, chemicals naturally found in plant foods that are associated with health benefits. Two specific types of polyphenols found in blueberries, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, are specifically capable of preventing the loss of nerve cell function in the brain that characterizes Parkinson’s Disease. “[Blueberries] can have synergistic benefits that surpass many other fruits when it comes to protection against brain cell death, which in turn may reduce the risk of contracting Parkinson’s,” said Mary Ann Lila, PhD, Director of the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the NCRC. Read more.
- Blueberries Prevent Exercised-Induced Viral Infections
Regular, strenuous exercise can leave an athlete vulnerable to viral infections. However, the antiviral abilities of polyphenols found in blueberries have a protective effect, researchers from the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab and PHHI found in a 2014 study, which was funded by the Dole Nutrition Institute (DNI). “This is the first study of its kind to show that athletes who regularly eat polyphenols had more anti-viral protection after three days of intensive running,” said lead author David Nieman, DrPH, director of the ASU lab. “I highly recommend that athletes increase their polyphenol intake from fruits and vegetables to reduce their likelihood of getting sick from viral illnesses.” Read more.
- Blueberries Improve Cognitive Function
Preliminary results from the B.E.R.R.Y. (Blueberries: Exciting Research Relevant to You) Study conducted by Carol Cheatham, PhD, and her lab showed that consumption of anthocyanins from blueberries improved cognitive scores on a paper-based test in participants between 65 and 79 years old. Cheatham is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute. The study also showed that blueberry consumption improved processing speed during a difficult test that required participants to press a button every time they saw a certain pattern of numbers. Interestingly, the researchers saw a significant positive effect specific to the male participants, which Cheatham suggests is due to the women participants benefitting from the study’s social interactions and support. Read more.