Blueberries: Nature's Blue Diamonds

Blueberries: Nature's Blue Diamonds

The eye-popping indigo of bursting, juicy fresh blueberries at the height of the season in July or August is celebration-worthy.

Ingredient feature

Ancestral wisdom surrounding the healing power of wild blueberries, a true jewel of the native North American food pharmacy, goes back to various indigenous groups who have long recognized their culinary and medicinal uses.

The short version is that blueberries are very, very good for your health, but let's dive deeper.



Blueberries get their astounding colour from anthocyanins, an intensely pigmented subtype of antioxidants that fall under the polyphenol category. Polyphenols are plant compounds that offer various health benefits, most notably their protective effects on the brain and heart.

Blueberries are very low on the glycemic index and boast a profoundly high micronutrient to calorie ratio, making them an excellent snack compatible with almost any diet.

A deluxe rainbow of minerals and nutrients awaits the unsuspecting mucher. These blue gems are packed with Vitamin C, flavonoids, resveratrol, ellagic acid, pectin fibre, terpenes, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Blueberries are most bioactive when ripe, so to get the most from them, look for them at their bluest.


Health Benefits

The phrase 'superfood' gets thrown around a lot these days, but it is hard to describe blueberries in any other way.

Often people think of antioxidants as compounds that combat free radicals as they encounter them in circulation. While this is partially how the antioxidants in blueberries work, something much more complex is also happening. There are compounds in blueberries that "switch on" complex metabolic pathways in our biology to stimulate the production of hundreds of our own antioxidant enzymes.

This distinction between "passive" antioxidants in plant foods and "active" antioxidants produced in our cells must be understood for an authentic, functional food like blueberries to be adequately appreciated.

It also goes a long way in explaining why these berries are so effective at:

  • dropping systemic inflammation
  • squashing free radical damage
  • stopping the spread of cancerous cells and sensitizing them to radiation
  • strengthening the mucosal barrier of the gut
  • promoting increased muscle growth
  • positively affecting every aspect of cardiovascular function, from lowering high blood pressure to preserving and optimizing arterial health

Blueberry Derived Neurotrophic Factor

The antioxidant signalling ability of blueberries has a particular affinity for the brain, protecting it from free radical damage associated with neurological degradation and cognitive decline.

If that wasn't enough, blueberry polyphenols can decrease neurological inflammation, raise neuroplasticity (i.e. connectivity and cross-talk between brain cells), and improve memory and overall mental function. To put it more succinctly, they slow the rate at which your brain ages.

Astonishingly, they even help our brain regenerate. This process is thanks to a remarkable compound called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). BDNF does something we thought was impossible in humans until recently: it promotes the generation of brand new brain cells. This neurogenesis effect has earned BDNF the nickname "Miracle-Gro for the brain." Blueberries are dense repositories of phytochemicals that significantly increase our body's production of BDNF.



One compound that has been receiving a lot of attention recently is pterostilbene. This increasingly famous polyphenol antioxidant is a major reason why blueberries continue to get studied for their health benefits.

Chemically it is almost identical to resveratrol; a longevity superstar in its own right, found in trace amounts in blueberries but mainly associated with red grape skins. However, pterostilbene is much more bioavailable. It even crosses the notoriously picky blood-brain barrier where it can do its neuroinflammation lowering, and BDNF raising magic.

Pterostilbene is a big part of how these superfruits benefit nearly every aspect of heart and brain health, switching off inflammation and oxidative damage throughout the vasculature and nervous system.

Interestingly, blueberries and pterostilbene are gaining repute among athletes for their ability to activate the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) metabolic pathway. AMPK plays an important role in maintaining cellular energy. In a nutshell, the pterostilbene found in blueberries can assist with blood sugar regulation, lower systemic inflammation, activate autophagy and even increase the bliss molecule "anandamide" associated with the "runner's high" sensation.

More Than Meets the Eyes

The chemistry of blueberries, like any true functional food, is extremely complex because it involves scores of plant chemicals working in concert with our own endlessly intricate physiology. It is likely that future scientific research will largely colour in the details of what we already understand: blueberries go far beyond earning their superfood moniker.

Blueberries are potent activators of sweeping metabolic cascades across a myriad of tissues and organ systems, all working in breathtakingly coordinated and elaborate ways to keep us feeling younger, smarter and more vital.

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Damien ZielinskiA cloud-based functional medicine practitioner with a focus on mental health and insomnia
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