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

tions that mimicked the body's internal chemical environment.

In a second round of experiments, researchers wanted to find out what layers in the artery are affected by blueberries. They focused on the inside surface of the artery, a layer of cells known as the endothelium.

"Increasing vascular resistance may lead to an elevation of blood pressure which may in turn damage the delicate endothelial layer," says Klimis-Zacas. "This layer is affected by many things in the blood. By removing the endothelium, we are left with the smooth muscle layer of the artery, and we can localize the effect of wild blueberries in response to stress hormones. "

In these tests, researchers purposely damaged a portion of the endothelium and then exposed the arteries to the hormones. "We found that when we remove the endothelium, the artery cannot relax. And the contractile force it exerts in response to the stress hormone is about three times what it was with the intact arterial rings," says Klimis-Zacas.

The endothelial layer is known to be an important source of nitric oxide that helps to relax the arteries. "You can imagine what happens with atherosclerosis. Your endothelium gets damaged. There are many different relaxation factors in the endothelium, but nitric oxide is a major one. We think that blueberries may function by preserving the bioavailability of nitric oxide," says Klimis-Zacas.

"We know that nitric oxide concentration decreases at the onset of cardiovascular disease. By preserving nitric oxide bioavailabilty, blueberries may aid in maintaining arterial relaxation and thus prevent elevation of blood pressure that damages the endothelium and contributes to cardiovascular disease," says Klimis-Zacas.

Future research is planned with rats that have high blood pressure, she says, to see if blueberries will lower blood pressure. A key will be the role of antioxidants in endothelium function.


Contact: Dorothy Klimis-Zacas
University of Maine

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