Wild blueberries may help protect arteries, reduce risks from cardiovascular disease

ORONO, Maine -- A University of Maine nutritionist has found evidence that consumption of wild blueberries can help arteries relax and reduce risks associated with cardiovascular disease. The project is the first using rats fed blueberry diets to demonstrate a relationship between consumption of whole wild blueberries and processes that can lead to high blood pressure.

The study was published earlier this year in the FASEB Journal, published by the American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Previous studies with cell cultures have shown that antioxidants such as anthocyanines contained in wild blueberries may help protect cells. Wild blueberry consumption in laboratory rats has also been linked to improvements in memory and motor skills.

At UMaine, Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, professor in the Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, led a team of graduate and undergraduate students in a two-year research project that was supported by the Maine Agriculture and Forestry Experiment Station, the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. "Our experiments focused on the effect of whole wild blueberries on the biomechanical properties of arteries as related to cardiovascular disease," says Klimis-Zacas. "This is the first in-vivo study to examine this relationship."

Students working on the project included Cynthia Norton and Anastasia Kalea, master's and Ph.D. candidates respectively in the department.

Researchers found that arteries of Sprague-Dawley laboratory rats fed a diet enriched with wild blueberries generated less force in response to phenylephrine, a stress hormone, than did arteries in rats fed the same diet without blueberries. "Those arteries (in rats fed the blueberry enriched diet) were more relaxed. When they were challenged with the stress hormone, they didn't develop as much force

Contact: Dorothy Klimis-Zacas
University of Maine

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