A recently-published study found that individuals with metabolic syndrome who consumed a cup of blueberries every day for six months had measureable improvements in their cardiac health. Photo: PR Newswire/USHBC

Jul 2, 2019
Blueberry industry group’s cardiac health study gets attention

A blueberry industry investment in medical research is paying big dividends in marketing this year.

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) in 2013 invested in a study looking at the health benefits of consuming berries. The fruit that investment bore in 2019 is a case study of why USHBC and other fruit commodity groups continue to support such research.

The academic study was published in the June issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The six-month study was conducted at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. A variety of measures of cardio and metabolic health were used to study 115 participants (78 men and 37 women) between the ages of 50 and 75 who had metabolic syndrome. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one of three daily treatments: 1 cup of freeze-dried blueberries, 0.5 cup of freeze-dried blueberries, or a placebo powder matched for color, taste and consistency.

Researchers found that 1 cup of blueberries per day improved the participants’ heart health, as measured by a variety of factors, including levels of HDL-C – commonly called “good cholesterol” – and vascular function, or the blood flow and elasticity of the blood vessels.

The study’s principal investigator, Aedin Cassidy, said in a news release from USHBC that “while the conclusions drawn are from a single study that cannot be generalized to all populations, the data add weight to the evidence that a dietary intervention with a realistic serving of blueberries may be an effective strategy to decrease important risk factors for heart disease.”

The public latched onto those results.

“We were excited to share the results of this latest study with our network of peers including reporters, health professionals, registered dieticians and industry members,” said Victoria De Bruin, marketing manager USHBC. As of mid-June, the report had been picked up in over 60 media outlets.

It helps that the study looked at a modest amount of fruit that could be easily inserted into an individual’s daily diet.

“Frozen blueberries can be incorporated into a morning smoothie and used for baking, or fresh berries can be eaten by the handful or over yogurt,” De Bruin said. “We have hundreds of recipes on our website that demonstrate the simple ways blueberries can be enjoyed over breakfast, lunch, dinner and beyond.”

Cassidy has been studying flavonoids and anthocyanins for many years, although this is the first study she has conducted focused on blueberries, De Bruin said. Cassidy also serves on USHBC’s scientific advisory board.

June’s study was particularly well-received, sparking headlines on dozens of media websites including the New York Times and Forbes. But it’s just one of many such studies USHBC supports yearly.

“Over the past 16 years, the USHBC has supported studies in the areas of cognitive function, insulin response, cancer and cardiovascular health,” De Bruin said. “We have also begun new research studies to see how blueberries in the diet can affect the gut microbiome and exercise performance.”

USHBC has invested $1 million in 2019, De Bruin said.

The council has supported studies from over 30 different academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad, stimulating 37 scientific publications and 16 ongoing studies, she said. Supported institutions include Tufts University, Harvard University and Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University. Past studies are cataloged at blueberrycouncil.org.

Exactly how the blueberries worked to improve the study subjects’ health remains a bit of a question.

De Bruin said that Peter Curtis, an investigator of the study, had indicated blueberries are a great source of not only fiber but also the flavonoid anthocyanin, which has been previously linked to an array of health benefits. Consumption of those two raw components in blueberries may account for the results seen in the study, but future research could examine the relationship in more detail.

“Interest in blueberry research remains strong in both the science and media communities,” De Bruin said.

– Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor

Above, A recently-published study found that individuals with metabolic syndrome who consumed a cup of blueberries every day for six months had measurable improvements in their cardiac health. Photo: PR Newswire/USHBC

Blueberries’ effect on cardiometabolic health, metabolic syndrome eyed

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