Berries the

Berries the "Superfruit"

Who could have imagined?

While mom always recommended getting those extra servings of fruits and vegetables, she probably wasn't aware of all the health benefits packed into those nutrient-dense pieces of produce. She might likewise be stunned at the impact delivered by the smallest of fruits?Berries. Rich in nutritional value, berries can be found in a range of dietary supplements, functional foods and beverages, and even cosmeceutical products.

Among their health benefits:

Antioxidant Effects: reduce brain aging, enhance memory and reduce oxidative stress

Cardiovascular Protection: enhance the strength of the blood vessels, prevent oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, reduce plaque formation and increase plasma's antioxidant capacity

Eye Health: prevent the onset of cataracts via reduced oxidation, increase blood flow and blood vessel strength and regenerate rodopsin

Anti-Diabetic Effects: reduce diabetic angiopathy and improve starch digestion

Antiviral/Antimicrobial Properties: reduce the onset of colds, protect against infections from microbes such as Helicobacter pylori and those causing urinary tract infection (UTI)

Although the exact active ingredients responsible for all these health benefits in berries have yet to be fully determined, it has been speculated that anthocyanins are the key class of compounds acting singly or synergistically. These are present as glucoside monomers, responsible for the intense red and purple colors noted with berries, or combined (proanthocyanins), which are colorless and serve as copigments. Anthocyanins react with atmospheric oxygen or light, which can polymerize the compounds, losing their color and causing fruit to brown.

Botanically, berries are fruits, meaning they originate from mature ovaries of flowers that have been pollinated. Specifically, berries originate from single flowers with one superior ovary with one or more seeds that entirely ripens to an edible pericarp. A berry then can be described as a fleshy/pulpy fruit of specific origin with embedded seeds that remain undischarged (indehiscent). Berries have been used as drug preparations in Europe for treating various inflammatory and circulatory conditions associated with vascular health, specifically for treating venous inflammation (edemas and tiredness of lower limbs), treating capillary fragility of skin and soft tissue (gum and nose bleeding) and treating acute attack of piles and circulatory disorders of the retina.

The Bountiful Berry Basket

Acai Berry (Euterpe Oleracea): The acai berry oracai fruit (ah-sigh-ee) grows on acai palms in the Amazon Rainforest and is similar to a grape in size, shape and properties. Acai berries are considered to be one of the most nutritious (antioxidant) fruits of the Amazon Rainforest and the native peoples have been consuming the berries for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. The acai berry itself is 88-90% seed and 10%-12% pulp and skin. Acai must be carefully harvested and processed before it can be made into a juice, as it is very sensitive to the effects of the sun after picking. Acai berries offer up a delicious tropical berry flavor and have an exceptional nutritional profile. Acai berries contain high levels of antioxidants (polyphenols), essential fatty acids (healthy fats), amino acids, fiber, minerals (iron and calcium), vitamins (B and E), and a plethora of beneficial phytonutrients like resveratrol and anthocyanins. Acai berries also have one of the highest ORAC values of any known edible berry and 33 times more health promoting anthocyanins than red grapes.(27)

Click here for pictures from our trip to Brazil and the Amazon

Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) produces black berries with a slightly caustic and sweet taste and is a rich source of phenolic compounds. Bilberries have been used for non-specific diarrhea, venous insufficiency of the lower limbs, for varicose veins, hemorrhoid conditions, inflammation of the mouth, improving visual acuity and degenerative retinal conditions.(1) Bilberry extract is marketed in Europe as a prescription drug for venous disorders and heavy legs. Bilberry has been fairly well evaluated clinically relevant to its health benefits for the eyes and vision as well as for its overall vascular support.(2,3)

Black currant (Ribes nigrum) is a dark purple to black edible berry with a sweet sharp taste used extensively for flavoring. Presently the awareness and popularity of black currants is growing again since it represents a rich source of antioxidants and vitamins. In addition, the seeds are rich in oil with significant amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs), including gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Preliminary studies have shown it may impact visual acuity, increase circulation, reduce muscle stiffness, relieve symptoms of allergic response and even protect the dental enamel from carbonated beverages.(4,5,6,7)

There are about 16 species of blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) that are categorized as superfruits. They are extensively used in cooking, having a favorable combination of nutrient richness, antioxidant strength and health benefits. Clinical trials support the antioxidant efficacy of blueberries. In one study, consumption of a single meal of blueberries (100 g freeze dried powder) increased plasma antioxidant capacity in the postprandial state.(8) Trials have also shown ingesting blueberries can increase plasma antioxidant activity(9) and reduce oxidative stress as measured by plasma biomarkers.(10) Such effects were shown to be specific to the anthocyanin content of blueberries.(11) Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry) and Aronia melanocarpa (black chokeberry) are two species of chokeberry, which has attracted attention due to its rich anthocyanin content: 1.5 percent by weight of fresh berries. The health benefits of chokeberry have been evaluated in several clinical studies, mainly for its benefits controlling oxidative stress.(12) Potential benefits of chokeberry have been suggested for colorectal cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastric mucosal disorders and eye inflammation; however, all need clinical evaluation.

There are four species of cranberry, the most popular of which are Vaccinium oxycoccus (European) and Vaccinium macrocarpon (American). Cranberries are well recognized in the Western world and classified as a superfruit for their flavor, nutrient content and health benefits. They are used primarily as an antioxidant and to prevent or address UTIs.(13,14) Cranberries represent one of the highest sources for polyphenol antioxidant compounds. These are uniquely synthesized as A-type (1-4 tannins) in cranberry and are responsible for the characteristic benefit of this fruit for UTIs.(15)

The health benefits of cranberry with regard to UTIs have been evaluated through several clinical studies, with many reporting positive results of using cranberry as a UTI preventive.(16) Further, the socioeconomic benefit for preferring cranberries to antibiotics as prophylaxis to UTIs has been clinically demonstrated.(17) A recent review discussed two well-designed studies that showed women with previous UTIs who took cranberry products for prophylactic purposes experienced fewer recurrent UTIs.(18)

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, the common elder, is found in several regional varieties as a group of similar species such as American elder (black elder), Chinese elder and Mexican elder. Elderberries have long been used in food, wines and liquors. Flavonoids including quercetin are believed to be the active health-promoting principals; albeit, the exact nature of these active principals is yet to be determined. The antiviral activity of elderberry lectins has been well documented.(19,20) The presence of lectins inelderberry have been found in the bark, seeds and fruit (berries).(21,22,23) Clinical evidence of elderberry's antiviral properties has been shown in studies using the patented extract Sambucol. This preparation has been shown in vitro to inhibit hemagglutination and replication of various human influenza strains.(24) One placebo-controlled clinical study found a threefold acceleration in speed of recovery of patients inflicted by influenza when taking a 30 mL dose of Sambucol.(25) In another trial, 60 patients suffering from influenza-like symptoms were given a dose of 15 mL of Sambucol four times a day for five days.(26) Again, speed of recovery occurred four days faster than the placebo group.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophe rhamnoides) is a shrub introduced from Eurasia. Sea buckthorn is very tolerant of weather extremes, growing in arid places where competition for nutrients with other plants is less. Its name likely derived from the preferential growing along the sea coast; however, it also grows in high altitudes in the alpine zone, requiring full sun. Sea buckthorn produces a yellowish-orange color berry that tastes very acidic and astringent; it does not contain anthocyanins like most other red to dark purple ones. The berries are traditionally used for jams, juices, lotions and liquors while uses of the oil range from treating burn injuries to addressing inflammation and digestive disturbances. Recently, sea buckthorn has been used as an ingredient in several cosmetic products to topically address wrinkles, dry skin or as an anti-aging ingredient. It is also being incorporated into dietary supplements, touted for lowering cholesterol and reducing blood clots.

Finally, Lycium barbarum, known as wolfberry or goji, are two closely related species producing a bright orange ellipsoid berry. Used in traditional Chinese medicine for many years, it is believed wolfberries enhance immune function, improve eye sight, protect the liver, boost sperm production and improve circulation. In the western world, interest in wolfberries is growing for their nutrient density and antioxidant properties. Wolfberries contain many phytochemicals, including polysaccharides, phenolic pigments and nutrients such as amino acids, vitamins, minerals, unsaturated fatty acids, phytosterols and carotenoids including beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein and lycopene.


Edited by: CAOH? 03/1/2009(27)

Dimitri Papadimitriou, Ph.D.

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