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Blueberries May Deter DNA Damage
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Colorful fruits and vegetables owe much of their healthful reputation to the antioxidants called polyphenols and carotenes.
Natural non-Dutched cocoa and dark chocolate are by far the richest known food sources of the particularly potent polyphenols called flavanols and procyanidins.
Wild blueberries are also very rich in polyphenols … especially procyanidins and anthocyanins, with modest amounts of flavanols and another potent phenol called chlorogenic acid.
Although they’re commonly called “antioxidants”, polyphenols and carotenes don’t appear to exert major, direct antioxidant effects in the body … just in test tubes.
Instead, the apparent health benefits of carotenes and polyphenols almost certainly flow from their “nutrigenomic” influences on cellular gene switches (Wu X et al. 2010).
Those nutrigenomic influences tend to reduce unhealthful oxidation and inflammation – in large part by boosting the body’s own antioxidant network, which includes enzymes and compounds such as CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid.
Interestingly, an Italian clinical study found that eating berries along with milk products blunted the berries’ antioxidant effects (Serafini M et al. 2009).
This likely applies to all berries, so those who mostly enjoy berries with milk-based yogurt, smoothies, or cereal should take note.
Wild berries beat farmed for polyphenol content
Wild, “low-bush” blueberries and organic blueberries generally possess more beneficial polyphenols than their conventionally grown “high-bush” counterparts (Kalt W et al. 2001; Wang SY et al. 2008; Rodriguez-Mateos A et al. 2012).
Accordingly, wild blueberries display a higher antioxidant capacity in the test tube, compared with farm grown blueberries … and almost all other fruits (see “Wild Blueberries Reclaim Antioxidant Crown”).
This advantage stems from the defensive roles that polyphenols play in plants, and the polyphenol-reducing effects of large amounts of synthetic fertilizers.
Wild, organic blueberries are less pest-protected than cultivated ones, and get less fertilizer, from entirely natural sources like manure.
The results of numerous animal and cell studies and a few clinical studies suggest that blueberries confer substantial benefits related to heart, brain, and metabolic health.
Now, evidence from a small clinical study suggests that drinking wild blueberry juice may help protect people’s DNA from damage by free radicals.
Pilot study finds wild blueberry juice blunted DNA and cell damage
The small, placebo-controlled clinical study was conducted by researchers from The University of Maine and Italy’s University of Milan (Riso P et al. 2012).
They recruited 18 men – average age 48 years – who had a minimum of one risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Before and after the study, the scientists measured the levels of DNA damage in the men’s white blood cells.
The men either drank a wild blueberry juice containing 375 mg of anthocyanins – one of the key polyphenols in blueberries – or a placebo drink low in polyphenols, daily for six weeks.
After six weeks, the rate of DNA damage among the men in the wild blueberry group dropped from 12.5% to 9.6%.
In contrast, the men in the placebo group showed no drop in DNA damage.
The researchers also drew blood from all of the men, and exposed it to hydrogen peroxide, which oxidizes (damages) DNA and cellular structures.
That test tube study revealed a reduction in DNA damage in the wild blueberry group – from 45.8% to 37.2% – but no drop occurred in the placebo group.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the greater oxidation damage that smokers suffer, the results were stronger in smokers and ex-smokers when compared with non-smokers.
  • Del Bo' C, Martini D, Vendrame S, Riso P, Ciappellano S, Klimis-Zacas D, Porrini M. Improvement of lymphocyte resistance against H(2)O(2)-induced DNA damage in Sprague-Dawley rats after eight weeks of a wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)-enriched diet. Mutat Res. 2010 Dec 21;703(2):158-62. Epub 2010 Aug 26.
  • Jin Y, Alimbetov D, George T, Gordon MH, Lovegrove JA. A randomised trial to investigate the effects of acute consumption of a blackcurrant juice drink on markers of vascular reactivity and bioavailability of anthocyanins in human subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2011 Jul;65(7):849-56. doi: 10.1038/ejcn.2011.55. Epub 2011 May 4.
  • Kalt W, Ryan DA, Duy JC, Prior RL, Ehlenfeldt MK, Vander Kloet SP. Interspecific variation in anthocyanins, phenolics, and antioxidant capacity among genotypes of highbush and lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium section cyanococcus spp.). J Agric Food Chem. 2001 Oct;49(10):4761-7.
  • Kay CD, Holub BJ. The effect of wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) consumption on postprandial serum antioxidant status in human subjects. Br J Nutr. 2002 Oct;88(4):389-98.
  • Kristo AS, Kalea AZ, Schuschke DA, Klimis-Zacas DJ. A wild blueberry-enriched diet (Vaccinium angustifolium) improves vascular tone in the adult spontaneously hypertensive rat. J Agric Food Chem. 2010 Nov 24;58(22):11600-5. Epub 2010 Oct 22.
  • McLeay Y, Barnes MJ, Mundel T, Hurst SM, Hurst RD, Stannard SR. Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jul 11;9(1):19.
  • Riso P, Klimis-Zacas D, Del Bo' C, Martini D, Campolo J, Vendrame S, Møller P, Loft S, De Maria R, Porrini M. Effect of a wild blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium) drink intervention on markers of oxidative stress, inflammation and endothelial function in humans with cardiovascular risk factors. Eur J Nutr. 2012 Jun 26. [Epub ahead of print] doi: 10.1007/s00394-012-0402-9
  • Rodriguez-Mateos A, Cifuentes-Gomez T, Tabatabaee S, Lecras C, Spencer JP. Procyanidin, Anthocyanin, and Chlorogenic Acid Contents of Highbush and Lowbush Blueberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2012 Jan 24. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Serafini M, Testa MF, Villaño D, Pecorari M, van Wieren K, Azzini E, Brambilla A, Maiani G. Antioxidant activity of blueberry fruit is impaired by association with milk. Free Radic Biol Med. 2009 Mar 15;46(6):769-74. Epub 2008 Dec 11.
  • Sweeney MI, Kalt W, MacKinnon SL, Ashby J, Gottschall-Pass KT. Feeding rats diets enriched in lowbush blueberries for six weeks decreases ischemia-induced brain damage. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Dec;5(6):427-31
  • Vendrame S, Guglielmetti S, Riso P, Arioli S, Klimis-Zacas D, Porrini M. Six-week consumption of a wild blueberry powder drink increases bifidobacteria in the human gut. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Dec 28;59(24):12815-20. Epub 2011 Nov 18.
  • Wang SY, Chen CT, Sciarappa W, Wang CY, Camp MJ. Fruit quality, antioxidant capacity, and flavonoid content of organically and conventionally grown blueberries. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Jul 23;56(14):5788-94. Epub 2008 Jul 1.
  • Wilms LC, Boots AW, de Boer VC, Maas LM, Pachen DM, Gottschalk RW, Ketelslegers HB, Godschalk RW, Haenen GR, van Schooten FJ, Kleinjans JC. Impact of multiple genetic polymorphisms on effects of a 4-week blueberry juice intervention on ex vivo induced lymphocytic DNA damage in human volunteers. Carcinogenesis. 2007 Aug;28(8):1800-6. Epub 2007 Jun 29.
  • Wolfe KL, Liu RH. Cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay for assessing antioxidants, foods, and dietary supplements. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Oct 31;55(22):8896-907. Epub 2007 Sep 29.
  • Wu X, Kang J, Xie C, Burris R, Ferguson ME, Badger TM, Nagarajan S. Dietary blueberries attenuate atherosclerosis in apolipoprotein E-deficient mice by upregulating antioxidant enzyme expression.
Key Points
  • Wild blueberry juice reduced DNA damage and oxidation in middle aged men.
  • Wild blueberries and organic berries have higher antioxidant levels than farmed berries.
  • Milk may block the antioxidant benefits of berries.
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