Friday, 25 January 2019

Wild Blueberry for Memory

Wild Blueberry article by Ann Walker
I had not heard of the American Wild Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), until I read a report of a study from the University of Reading (PMID: 29882843). This is my Alma mater and the University where I taught nutrition to food science BSc and MSc students for 35 years, so naturally, it caught my attention. The study was of 122 older adults who were randomised to three groups to take daily for six months either placebo, wild blueberry as a dried powder or wild blueberry as an extract. At the end of the study, the extract, but not the whole herb powder, showed, compared with placebo, improved memory and lowered blood pressure. This better result for the extract is not surprising as herbal extracts are at least five times the strength of powdered herbs.

Initially I assumed that the wild blueberry was the ancestor of the commercial blueberry, but this is not the case – it is a separate species and both are closely related to the European bilberry. All three species are characterised by their dark red pigments known as anthocyanins, which have an array of physiological effects on the body as shown in many laboratory studies. However, of the three species, bilberry was the first to be subjected to clinical trials, inspired by reports of British Royal Air Force pilots in World War II. They described how a good dose of bilberry jam just prior to a mission improved their night vision. While the bilberry is a low-growing shrub with poor yield, the wild blueberry – a taller plant - produces a worthwhile harvest in Canada, where it is cultivated and collected on a commercial scale. Not surprising then, that research attention is now turning to the wild blueberry.

I tried to find a comparison of the anthocyanin content of blueberry, wild blueberry, and bilberry to report in this blog, but failed. The level of the pigments depends on the variety as well as the species – sometimes the pigment is held mainly in the skin (as in the familiar blueberry) and sometimes more in the flesh (as in the bilberry). I can only conclude that the fruits of all these species are beneficial to health. Anthocyanins resemble the tannin-like complexes in grape seed and pine bark, and as such, they have been recommended for similar uses involving ‘tissue strengthening’ as in easy bruising, varicose veins, minor injuries, and surgery support. Areas which have received research attention include blood sugar control in diabetes and more latterly, brain function as in this present study.

PMID = PubMed identifier

Ann Walker PhD, FCPP, MNIMH, RNutr
Course Director DHM
Herbal Practitioner

You can discover more about Wild Blueberries over on the blog run by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.
Wild Blueberry photo by Johan1127