Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blueberry power! by Jerry Brainum

One Serving Has the Antioxidant Potency of Five Servings of Fruits and Vegetables

Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe! You ought to have seen!
—Robert Frost, 1915

   You can only imagine the pressure on Jamie Gold of Santa Monica, California. Here he was, a relatively unknown participant in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. He’d made it to the final table and was closing in on a $12 million payday. Under the stress of hours of intense concentration, Gold munched on something he later credited with helping him maintain his energy as he went on to win the $12 million: blueberries.
    Bodybuilders and anyone else interested in health and disease prevention can take a tip from Gold’s poker-tournament power snack. It may not help you win $12 million, but eating blueberries will provide a wealth of health benefits: potent antioxidant activity that protects against cardiovascular disease and cancer, preservation of brain function with age, prevention of urinary tract infections, possible prevention of diabetes and more.
    Bodybuilders especially should find eating blueberries useful. They contain a moderate amount of carbs balanced by a respectable fiber content that slows carb release and prevents a fat-producing insulin spike. Many bodybuilders don’t eat the minimum five servings a day of fruits and vegetables linked to disease prevention; blueberries are a source of concentrated protective nutrients and won’t make you gain fat. A hundred grams, or about 3.5 ounces, of blueberries deliver the antioxidant power of five servings of fruits and vegetables.
    Small wonder that when food scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Center ranked 40 fruits and vegetables, blueberries topped the list. Blackberries, garlic, cranberries, kale, strawberries and spinach came next. The total antioxidant value of blueberries is twice that of spinach and three times that of oranges.
    The medicinal value of blueberries was recognized by early American settlers. They learned the value of the fruit from Native Americans, who used blueberries to treat coughs and as a relaxant during childbirth. The settlers added blueberries to soups, stews and other foods.
    Blueberries are available fresh, frozen, pureed, concentrated and dried. They’re also low in calories, fat and sodium and are a good fiber source. While fresh blueberries are higher in vitamins A and C than frozen or canned, one study found that the frozen version was highest in antioxidants.1 Frozen blueberries are also considerably less expensive than fresh ones.
    Key to blueberries’ antioxidant content are brightly colored pigments called anthocyanins, which provide the intense blue, red and orange colors of many fruits, as well as phenolic acids and flavonoids. Scientists are arguing about how effectively fruit antioxidants are absorbed. Test tube studies show potent antioxidant effects; studies that use human subjects often find relatively little effect because many natural antioxidants are hard for the body to absorb.
    A high absorption rate is what makes blueberries special. One study, for example, featured five middle-aged men who ate a high-fat meal that also included a blueberry supplement. Nineteen of the 25 anthocyanins present in the blueberries showed up in the men’s blood serum.2
                                   Can Blueberries Slow the Aging Process?

    While the aging process cannot be halted, there are a number of ways to increase the chances of healthier aging. Exercise and nutrition are central to quality of life with the passing years. One theory is that aging is the result of oxidative damage to cells. The body responds by activating its built-in antioxidant systems, such as superoxide dismutase, catalase enzymes and glutathione. But with aging, those natural defenses gradually decline. The good news is that antioxidant nutrients can counteract the decline.
    Because the major causes of death, cardiovascular disease and cancer, are related to out-of-control oxidation, you can see why the government and numerous scientists strongly suggest eating five servings a day of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Their antioxidants number in the thousands, and many cannot be obtained in supplement form. Studies showing no health effects from taking specific antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamins E and C and beta-carotene, are flawed because antioxidant nutrients work as part of a network. Using them in an isolated fashion offers few benefits.
     Studies indicate that blueberries have remarkable power to thwart the ravages of aging—even reversing some of its effects. How it works on your brain is a case in point.
     The brain is particularly susceptible to oxidative stress. While it constitutes 2 percent of body mass, it uses 20 percent of the body’s total oxygen. That leads to a greater production of free radicals, or reactive oxygen species, by-products of oxygen metabolism that attack cell membranes and open the door to cellular mutations. The high amount of polyunsaturated fat found in the brain is highly susceptible to oxidation. High levels of vitamin C and iron in the brain also provoke oxidation. The brain’s built-in antioxidant protection system, however, is relatively weak. Even the brain’s neurotransmitters, which transmit nerve signals, can oxidize and generate free radicals. Unlike other cells, nerve cells cannot regenerate, and the loss of nerve cells in different parts of the brain produces anything from memory lapses to outright disease, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
    Inflammation in the brain is associated with brain dysfunction. It’s directly linked to increased free radicals, which explains why both inflammation and free radicals are linked to Alzheimer’s. When neurons in the brain become inflamed, a cascade of inflammatory chemicals—for example nitric oxide synthetase, interleukin-1B, tumor necrosis factor-A and nuclear factor kappa-B—fans the flames and causes brain damage.
The best defense is a generous intake of antioxidant-rich foods, blueberries in particular. Researchers gave 19-month-old rats (equivalent to 65-year-old humans) extracts of blueberry, strawberry and spinach for eight weeks. Blueberries proved most potent in reversing declines in neuronal and cognitive functions. Only the rats that got the blueberry extract  showed improved balance and coordination.3
    Providing blueberries to lab rats bred to produce Alzheimer’s disease helped the rats retain memory functions. The experimenters found that blueberries helped increase neuron-signaling mechanisms.4
Insulinlike growth factor 1 is most associated with muscle growth. As the primary anabolic agent of growth hormone, IGF-1 offers potent protective effects against aging. It helps maintain neurons in the hippocampus, the site of learning and memory and the part of the brain most damaged by Alzheimer’s disease. One study found that eating blueberries helps IGF-1 protect the brain.5
   Another study exposed rats to radiation, which leads to brain degeneration. Blueberry and strawberry extracts shielded their brains from the effects of radiation. The strawberry extracts seemed to work especially well in the hippocampus, while the blueberry improved function in the striatal area. The authors suggested that this information could be of value to astronauts who are exposed to high radiation levels for longer periods on extended space missions.6
    One way that blueberries may improve balance and coordination in aged animals is by protecting and increasing the output of brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Loss of those cells occurs in Parkinson’s disease and leads to the shaking and loss of coordination characteristic of the disease. Many older people, however, show declining production of dopamine and experience loss of balance and slower gait. Blueberries are especially useful in protecting dopamine production in the brain.
    Another way that the brain protects itself is by producing heat shock proteins. Those special proteins emerge under stress and help prevent the destruction of cells, including neurons. With aging the brain is less efficient at producing heat shock proteins. Rats provided with blueberry extracts, however, showed a heat shock response equivalent to that of young animals.7
    The blood-brain barrier is the brain’s defense system—blood vessels that selectively allow only certain substances access into the interior of the brain. Without it many ordinary foods could prove fatal. On the other hand, the barrier also blocks many useful substances. A study that sought to determine the ability of blueberry extracts to enter the brain found that in rats fed the extract for 10 weeks, blueberry extract concentrated in various parts of the brain, particularly those involved in learning and memory. The rats showed improved thinking ability after feeding on blueberry extracts for 10 weeks.
   When the brain is deprived of blood, which happens in some types of strokes, brain damage ensues. One study, however, found that rats with diets containing blueberry, spinach and spirulina extracts suffered less neuron loss when subjected to ischemia, or lack of blood flow. This has implications for brain protection during strokes.9
                                                 Blueberries Against Cancer

   A 2001 study found that blueberry and strawberry extracts slowed the growth of cervical and breast cancer cells.10 Another study found a 50 percent reduced rate of replication of colon cancer cells.11 A follow-up study confirmed the effect of berry extracts on preventing colon cancer and also found protection against breast, oral and prostate cancers.12 Cancer cells kill themselves when exposed to these extracts.
One way that blueberry and other fruits prevent cancer is by inhibiting the activity of enzymes released by cancer cells that help spread cancer by degrading tissue that would otherwise contain the cancer cells.13 Other research shows that a chemical found in blueberries called pterostilbene inhibits cytochrome P-450, which converts chemicals into carcinogens in the body.
                                    Blueberries and Cardiovascular Protection

   Pterostilbene, besides helping to prevent cancer, also appears to increase the number of low-density-lipoprotein cell receptors, which would have the effect of lowering blood lipids and preventing cardiovascular disease. Another study found that eating blueberries improved the plasticity of vascular smooth muscle, which also offers protection from cardiovascular disease. A rat study found that blueberries help maintain the structural capacity of the aorta, the large artery leading out of the heart. Blueberry antioxidants also prevent high blood pressure by protecting nitric oxide production in arterial walls.Cardiovascular complications are a major cause of death in diabetics. One study found that blueberries have an insulinlike effect on boosting glucose uptake into cells.14
    The antioxidant effects of blueberries may also help speed recovery from intense exercise and prevent such effects as exercise-induced muscle soreness. One study found that men who ate blueberries were protected from oxidative effects while training under hot conditions.15 Blueberries proved superior to vitamin C in that regard. Another study, however, failed to find any significant antioxidant effect from blueberry intake prior to a 2 1/2-hour run.16
   Blueberries can be easily added to any type of protein drink, assuming you have a blender. They add antioxidant value and fiber and exert an alkalinizing effect, which, studies show, prevents muscle catabolism. However, some recent studies that involved an in vitro, or out of the body protocol, found that milk proteins may inhibit the uptake of blueberry antioxidants; the same effect occurs when milk protein is ingested with green tea. Any way you look at it, blueberries and other berries are a definite asset to any bodybuilding nutrition program. They may even help you play poker all night long.
1 Wehrmeister, A., et al. (2005). Antioxidant content of fresh, frozen, canned and dehydrated blueberries. J Am Diet Assoc. 105(supp 2):A-38.
2 Kay, C.D., et al. (2002). The effect of wild blueberry (Vaccinium augustifolium) consumption on postprandial serum antioxidant status in human subjects. Br J Nutr. 88:389-97.
3 Joseph, J.A., et al. (1999). Reversals of age-related declines in neuronal signal transduction, cognitive, and motor behavioral deficits with blueberry, spinach or strawberry dietary supplementation. J Neurosci. 19:8114-21.
4 Joseph, J.A., et al. (2003). Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer’s disease model. Nutr Neurosci. 6:153-62.
5 Casdadesus, G., et al. (2004). Modulation of hippocampal plas­ticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats. Nutr Neurosci. 7:309-16.
6 Shukitt-Hale, B., et al. (2006). Beneficial effects of fruit extracts on neuronal function and behavior in a rodent model of accelerated aging. Neurobiol of Aging. In press.
7 Shukitt-Hale, B., et al. (2005). Dietary supplementation with fruit polyphenolics ameliorates age-related deficits in behavior and neuronal markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

8 Andres-Lacueva, C., et al. (2005). Anthocyanins in aged blueberry-fed rats are found centrally and may enhance memory. Nutr Neurosci. 8:111-120.
9 Wang, Y., et al. (2005). Dietary supplementation with blueberries, spinach or spirulina reduces ischemic brain damage. Exp Neurol. 193:75-84.
10 Wedge, D.E., et al. (2001). Anticarcinogenic activity of strawberry, blueberry and raspberry extracts to breast and cervical cancer lines. J Med Food. 4:49-51.
11 Yi, W., et al. (2005). Phenolic compounds from blueberries can inhibit colon cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis. J Agric Food Chem. 53:7320-9.
12 Seeram, N., et al. (2006). Blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry, cranberry, red raspberry, and strawberry extracts inhibit growth and stimulate apoptosis of human cancer cells in vitro. J Agric Food Chem. 54(25):9329-9339.
13 Matchett, M.D., et al. (2005). Inhibition of matrix metalloproteinase activity in DU145 human prostate cancer cells by flavonoids from lowbush bluberry: Possible roles for protein kinase C and mitogen-activated protein kinase-mediated events. Nutr Biochem. 17(2):117-125.
14 Martineau, L.C., et al. (2006). Anti-diabetic properties of the Canadian lowbush blueberry. Phytomedicine. 13:612-623.
15 McAnulty, S.R., et al. (2004). Consumption of blueberry polyphenols reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress compared to vitamin C. Nut Res. 24:209-21.
16 Shooter, L., et al. (2004). Effect of blueberry ingestion on oxidative stress and plasma antioxidant potential following a 2.5 hour run. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 26(supp):S258.

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