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Blueberry Consumption May Prevent Heart Disease, Diabetes

Update Date: Nov 06, 2013 12:02 PM EST

Eating wild blueberries can help protect people against obesity, heart disease and diabetes, according to a new study.

New research reveals that regular consumption of blueberries, which are rich in phytochemicals called polyphenols, over an eight-week period can improve and prevent illnesses associated with the metabolic syndrome.  

"The metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a group of risk factors characterized by obesity, hypertension, inflammation, dyslipidemia, glucose intolerance and insulin resistance, and endothelial dysfunction," co-author Dr. Klimis-Zacas, a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Maine, said in a news release. "MetS affects an estimated 37% of adults in the US."

Researchers explain that some substances found in food can help protect against metabolic syndrome. These naturally occurring ingredients can therefore help reduce the need for drugs and medical intervention.

"We have previously documented the cardiovascular benefits of a polyphenol-rich wild blueberry in a rat model with impaired vascular health and high blood pressure," said Klimis-Zacas. "Our new findings show that these benefits extend to the obese Zucker rat, a widely used model resembling human MetS."

"Endothelial dysfunction is a landmark characteristic of MetS, and the obese Zucker rat, an excellent model to study the MetS, is characterized by vascular dysfunction. The vascular wall of these animals shows an impaired response to vasorelaxation or vasoconstriction which affects blood flow and blood pressure regulation," Klimis-Zacas added.

Researchers found that rats given blueberries for eight weeks were shown to regulate and improve the balance between relaxing and constricting factors in the vascular wall. Obese rats with metabolic syndrome also showed improved blood blow and blood pressure regulation.

"Our recent findings reported elsewhere, documented that wild blueberries reduce chronic inflammation and improve the abnormal lipid profile and gene expression associated with the MetS," Klimis-Zacas said.

Researchers said the latest study reveals more benefits of eating blueberries. Not only do the berries help normalize oxidative, inflammatory response and endothelial function, long term consumption of the fruit could help improve symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome.

The findings are published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.

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