Blueberries are a nutrient-rich superfood well known for their varied health benefits, ranging from cancer-fighting properties to maintaining insulin levels in diabetes patients.

New research suggests that consuming a handful of wild blueberries can improve cognitive and cardiovascular health.

Researchers from King's College London Faculty of Life Sciences and Medicine in the United Kingdom evaluated 61 healthy male and female participants, aged between 65 and 80 years. The participants were given a daily drink of 26 grams of freeze-dried wild blueberry powder for 12 weeks, while the control group had a matched placebo.

The blueberry drink was equivalent to 178g of whole blueberries, which comes to around 75–80 blueberries.

At the end of the study, researchers found the group that took blueberry drink was better at executive function, had improved short-term memory and had faster reaction times. They were also found to be better at recalling word lists and task switching.

The participants also showed improvements in systolic blood pressure and blood vessel function compared to the control group.

Researchers believe the beneficial effects of blueberries were due to their blue pigments called anthocyanins. They are a class of polyphenols that is found effective in increasing cardiovascular and cerebral blood flow.

These pigments are found in strawberries, raspberries, red grapes and purple vegetables. Other food items that contain anthocyanins are broccoli, pears and spices like turmeric.

"There is some evidence on health benefits of other anthocyanin-rich foods, and there is no reason to think that they will not work as well as blueberries, as long as the amount of anthocyanins provided with such foods is enough, and that the anthocyanins are bioaccessible and bioavailable," said Dr. Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, a lead author of the study.

According to experts, the heart and cognitive benefits are not just restricted to wild blueberries, as previous studies have found similar benefits in other types of blueberries.

Well-known health benefits of blueberries

Bone health: Blueberries are rich in nutrients like iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and vitamin K that are crucial for bone health. These minerals help to maintain bone structure, strength and elasticity of the joints.

Healthy skin: Blueberries are a rich source of vitamin C that helps to improve collagen synthesis, which works to smoothen wrinkles and improve overall skin texture. Anti-inflammatory properties in blueberries may help in treating psoriasis and reducing eczema, while antioxidants in them help in protecting the skin from environmental damage.

Maintains blood pressure: Blueberries help the body produce more nitric oxide, which is responsible for reducing blood pressure inside blood vessels. The low sodium level of blueberries also helps the body to maintain blood pressure.

Diabetes superfood: Packed with vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber, American Diabetes Association calls blueberries a diabetes superfood. Eating blueberries helps in glucose processing, weight loss and insulin sensitivity in diabetes patients. It is a fruit low in Glycemic Index, an indicator that shows how quickly each food affects the blood sugar level.

Prevents cancer: Powerful antioxidants and vitamins A and C in blueberries provide protection against cell damage caused by free radicals. Blueberries also contain folate, which helps in DNA synthesis and repair.

Tips to keep in mind while eating blueberries

  • Although blueberries can be cooked and eaten raw, you can get the most of their benefits when eaten fresh.
  • Eating too many blueberries like any other thing is harmful, as it can cause an overdose of vitamin K and fiber, which can lead to various diseases.
  • People who are allergic to blueberries must stay off the fruit despite its health benefits.
  • People who have Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency should not take blueberries. G6PD is a genetic disorder where individuals show issues in breaking down some chemicals in food and drugs.
  • Blueberries can be eaten on an empty stomach as they may help regulate metabolism and blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Berries
Berries, especially blueberries, contain nitric oxide which can have a beneficial effect on blood flow. andrew welch/Unsplash