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The Total-Body Benefits of Berries

By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D., July/August 2008

Learn about the surprising ways berries boost health.

When it comes to health, berries have a fabulous reputation. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants, called anthocyanins, that may help keep memory sharp as you age, and raspberries contain ellagic acid, a compound with anti-cancer properties. All berries are great sources of fiber, a nutrient important for a healthy digestive system. But if you need more reasons to dig into summer’s sun-kissed little fruits, look no further than two new studies, which suggest that berries may be good for your heart and your bones as well.

In a study of 72 middle-age people published recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating just under a cup of mixed berries daily for eight weeks was associated with increased levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowered blood pressure, two positives when it comes to heart health. Included in the mix were strawberries, red raspberries and bilberries—similar to blueberries—as well as other berries more common in Finland (where the research was conducted): black currants, lingonberries and choke­berries.

“At the moment we do not know which berry, or berries, could have been the most active,” says Iris Erlund, Ph.D., senior researcher at the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki and lead author of the study. But, in fact, the diverse range of polyphenols—a broad class of health-promoting plant compounds that includes anthocyanins and ellagic acid—provided by the mix of berries is likely responsible for the observed benefits. Polyphenols may increase levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that produces a number of heart-healthy effects. One is helping to relax blood vessels, which subsequently results in lowered blood pressure, says Erlund.



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