Brilliant Berries

By: 

Audrey Junnier, DipION, Nutritional therapist

Issue: 
Summer
Year of publication: 
2010

Summer is on its way and with it comes a delicious variety of summer berries to liven up our taste buds. As well as brightening up our plates and palates, summer berries have a vital role to play in our health and wellbeing. Colourful berries such as strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and blueberries contain flavonoids which have built up quite a reputation for rendering damaging free radicals harmless. Berries are definitely under the scientific spotlight and there is a lot of exciting research being conducted on some of our favourite berries and what surprising additional health benefits are emerging.

Research into flavonoids has demonstrated their ability to reduce histamine production and act as an antiinflammatory food. Histamine is partly responsible for those misery-inducing allergy symptoms experienced. So getting your daily dose of berries could be helpful at this time of year when hay fever symptoms are at their worst. Berries also exhibit the potential to confer protection on liver cells. A 2010 study of over 60 female subjects given approx 160g of berries daily, found ALT levels (a liver enzyme where elevated levels can indicate liver problems) dropped by nearly a quarter more than in the control group. Another study noted that resveratrol found in red grapes and cranberries was effective at reducing cancerous liver cells.

Blueberries have been found to contain an antioxidant called ellagic acid, which has been shown to inhibit growth of colon cancer cells. A 2010 study used a thermosensitive gel to deliver ellagic acid in the treatment of cancer in brain cells, noting that the gel was effective in reducing cancer cells in both human and animal tests.

 Another fascinating area of research is the investigation into the health benefits of salvestrols, found in blackcurrants and cranberries. Salvestrols are being studied for their ability to kill off cells containing the enzyme CYP1B1. This enzyme is only present in cancer cells so normal cells are unaffected by salvestrol’s action. Research is in its early days, but this area has much potential. Strawberries, a long-established part of our summer fare, as well as being a good source of antioxidants have another health benefit tucked inside. Recent research has been focusing on the content of folate in strawberries.

One study noted blood folate levels in volunteers to have increased after as little as two weeks’ regular consumption. Folate has many important functions in the body. It helps with red blood cell production, balances homocysteine levels, boosts bone health and aids memory. This current research proves that strawberries are an important berry to include in your summer diet. The potential for blueberries to boost our minds is just brilliant.

Blueberries contain anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects. These properties have been associated with increased signalling in the brain and improving memory function, helping us keep our minds sharp as we age. A study looking at the effect of daily consumption of wild blueberry juice in a sample of adults over a 12-week period found improved learning ability. Other studies concur that blueberries are helpful in supporting cognitive and motor function as well as improving nerve signalling. All of this is good news for a focused mind. Blueberries may even prove a key weapon in the fight against age-related degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. A 2008 animal study found encouraging results showing that blueberries helped inhibit the formation of amyloid plaques which interfere with brain nerve signalling, impairing brain function. In late summer, the classic cranberry comes into its own. Known for years as a remedy for urinary tract infections (UTIs) various scientific studies now support this belief.

Cranberries contain hippuric acid, an antibacterial agent and proanthocyanidins, both of which help prevent bacteria attaching to the urinary tract. The cranberry, however, has more health benefits to reveal. Recent studies have indicated that proanthocyanidins in cranberries (and other berries) are helpful in protecting blood fats by reducing LDL oxidation and assisting blood sugar balance. The proanthocyanidins in cranberries have also got scientists interested for their anti-cancer properties. A 2009 US study found that they proved effective in killing ovarian and prostate cancer cells. So it’s true, summer berries are not only great tasting but have potentially significant health benefits to confer. Tuck in this summer and give your taste buds and body a health-boosting treat.   

Keywords: 
FOOD, flavonoids, salvestrols, folate, anthocyanins, hippuric acid
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