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Blueberries leave mark on good health

January 27, 2010  By Fruit & Vegetable

January 27, 2010 – Look out, apples – here comes the blueberry in a bid to take on the role of keeping the doctor away.

Scientists continue to uncover more evidence that supports a recommendation to take a daily dose of blueberries, a rich source of compounds with arrestingly diverse health benefits.

It’s in large part due to their colour, says Dr. Wilhelmina Kalt, a food researcher at Agriculture and
Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC)
Atlantic Food and Horticulture Research
in Kentville, Nova Scotia. She’s been focusing her scientific lens on the nutritive qualities of blueberries for some time now, and still shakes her head in wonder at the healthy punch they pack.


Dr. Kalt’s work heralds a new approach to food science at AAFC, namely, the study of linkages between specific food compounds and human health. Developing this knowledge will allow producers to select appropriate varieties, find new business opportunities and adopt health marketing strategies and help consumers to make better-informed choices about their food.

Blueberries have such a catalogue of health benefits that it’s worthwhile to add it up. Citing research
from ‘test tube’ and animal studies, scientists point to blueberries’
anti-inflammatory properties, their ability to delay the onset of age-related
decreases in cognitive and motor function, provide some possible Parkinson’s
Disease protection, aid in ischemic stroke recovery, and help reduce
cholesterol and prevent colon cancer.

Biomedical evidence
continues to mount in support of blueberries as a boon to health, and Dr. Kalt
and her team are making efforts to further shore it up. They’ve made a key
contribution by developing procedures to isolate the specific blueberry
flavonoids to determine which of these compounds may be responsible for
particular health benefits.

Thanks to the
fractionation technologies coming from Dr. Kalt’s research, scientists have
also been able to better profile the composition of the fruit. Her research
also continues to evaluate the effects of growing conditions, handling, and
processing on the berries’ bioactive flavonoids.

Dr. Kalt’s group has
just wrapped up a human clinical study in collaboration with Dalhousie
in Halifax that follows up on earlier research from Europe. The
focus was on night vision, specifically to determine whether and by how much
blueberry compounds could influence aspects of night vision in humans with
normal vision. The results are being tabulated prior to submission for journal

Another interesting
study has recently been completed by Dr. Kalt and the Atlantic Veterinary
in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Here researchers looked at the
impact of blueberries on cholesterol levels. They observed that pigs fed a diet
high in sugar and fat experienced a decrease in cholesterol levels when
blueberries were added to the rations.

But the effect was more
dramatic when the blueberries were added to a more sensible plant-based diet,
suggesting that the benefits from blueberries come from a synergistic
interaction with other plant compounds.

“Even though there are
obvious benefits from eating blueberries, these things can’t be taken in isolation,”
says Dr. Kalt.

“Having a lot of
blueberries in the diet is great” says Dr. Kalt but she also urges that
blueberries be part of a diet that is rich in a variety of fruits and

AAFC scientists in
Newfoundland and British Columbia are also working with blueberry growers to
identify emerging threats to blueberry production, provide tools for dealing
with those threats, and develop management practices that make efficient use of
water and nutrients.

In Newfoundland research
is being conducted on a new home-grown, mid-bush blueberry plant, one that
combines the concentrated nutritional punch of low-bush (wild) blueberries with
the harvesting ease of high-bush blueberries. The new mid-sized blueberry plant
could boost commercial blueberry production in Newfoundland and give farmers
greater access to a market driven by the fruit’s antioxidant health benefits.

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