The Health Benefits of Blueberries
Many species of Vaccinium have a long history of use for medicinal purposes. All parts of the plant have been used with the fruit being favoured in Europe while the leaves, stems and bark are more widely used by Native Americans.
As far back as the twelfth century St Hildegard of Bingen, the first woman to write a Herbal, wrote that Bilberry fruits were good for inducing menstruation. The 16th century German herbalist, Hieronymus Bock wrote that the berries were useful for the treatment of bladder stones, and lung and liver disorders. Berries were used fresh or dried for winter use and then soaked in water to make infusions or syrups such as that used for centuries for the treatment
In the 18th century, especially in Germany, bilberries, probably V. myrtillus became a valuable resource for herbalists and physicians, using extracts from dried berries as an infusion or tisane. The latter was used as an astringent for treating diarrhoea, as a diuretic, to prevent scurvy and as a mouthwash to soothe mouth ulcers as well as in the treatment of gout and rheumatism, and even to relieve the symptoms of typhoid fever.
During WW2 when British Royal Air Force pilots were on nighttime bombing missions they reported that their sight was improved after eating bilberry jam. This report led to the first laboratory and clinical research, in the 1960's into the effects of bilberry fruit extracts on the eyes and indeed on the wider subject of the whole vascular system. Air traffic controllers, airline pilots and truck drivers have also reported improved night time vision when given extracts of bilberry fruit.
Most of the recent recent research carried out on the health benefits of blueberries has shown that it is the dark blue or purple colouring of the fruit that contains the active ingredients that are so beneficial. This colouring, provided by naturally occurring anthocyanins, is in the skins of highbush blueberries, but extends throughout the fruit of bilberries.
It is not destroyed by heating. Our bodies produce chemicals, “free radicals” as waste products
of natural life processes. If not removed they can damage cell membranes and DNA, causing oxidative stress which in turn may cause diseases and malfunction of the body, especially in older people. Free radicals are removed by anti-oxidants, such as Vitamins C and E, provided in our diet, and blueberries and other dark coloured fruits are particularly rich in these chemicals.
Preliminary results of research carried out at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre Laboratory In Boston MA has shown that a cupful of fresh blueberries, eaten daily, slows down increasingly poor eyesight, and loss of mental capacity. Each cupful of blueberries contains 14mg of Vitamin C and 0.8mg of Vitamin E. People who had their daily cupful performed 5-6% better in motor skills tests than a control group which didn't. Additional research, at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has identified compounds (proanthocyanidins) in blueberries that help to reduce infections
of the urinary tract by preventing bacteria sticking to cell walls. Other research has shown that blueberry/bilberry extract, fed to mice, improved micro-circulation thus increasing the efficiency of capillaries serving the eyes, which probably explains the positive benefits experienced by those suffering macular degeneration and haemorrhaging.
Improved circulation to connective tissues may help to explain the relief experienced by arthritis sufferers, and those with water retention in the legs, varicose veins, haemorrhoids and general bruising.
Within the last few years, researchers at U-M Cardioprotection Research Laboratory in the USA have produced findings of research which suggests that the anti-oxidants which are so high in blueberries help the body process glucose and tests showed that there were fewer fat cells in subjects who had been kept on a diet rich in blueberries than those who had not. The study also suggested positive impact for diabetes sufferers
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In another piece of research, blueberries may be able to prevent atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries.
In a lab test, artery lesions were shown to be up to 58% less on subjects fed with a high blueberry diet than those without.
This research provides yet more evidence that a regular consumption of blueberries can be good for the heart
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All in all it is generally accepted that eating blueberries regularly does have a beneficial effect on health.