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Friday, January 23, 2015 by: Julie Wilson staff writer
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(NaturalNews) With ancient ties to North America, its no wonder that blueberries are one of America's favorite foods. Called "star berries" by the Native Americans for their five-point star shape, blueberries were an abundant resource, acting as a food and a medicine. The berries were dried to create a type of jerky that could be taken on long trips, similar to today's version of fruit leather. Natives also made dye from blueberry juice, using it to paint textiles and baskets.
Native to the region, blueberries were quickly adopted by the early settlers, who relied upon them when food was scarce. Learning from the Native Americans, early colonists made gray paint out of blueberries by boiling them in milk, using it to paint their homes.
Today, blueberries are still an integral part of our diet, playing an equally important role. Blueberries offer a variety of health benefits, including improving memory, protecting the heart, assisting with digestion and reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Consuming them regularly keeps your brain sharp, and they even help shield us from the effects of toxic heavy metals.
Blueberries help widen blood vessels by 68 percent, study finds
The results of a new study reveal that blueberries may be the key in reducing high blood pressure and arterial stiffness, both of which are linked to cardiovascular disease, according to Newswise.com.
"Our findings suggest that regular consumption of blueberries could potentially delay the progression of prehypertension to hypertension, therefore reducing cardiovascular disease risk," said Sarah A. Johnson, assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging.
Published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the paper is called "Daily blueberry consumption improves blood pressure and arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with pre- and stage 1-hypertension."
Johnson says she was interested in examining how functional foods, like blueberries, prevent and reverse negative health outcomes, particularly in postmenopausal women.
"Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States"
"Once women go through menopause, this puts them at an even greater risk for it. Our findings suggest that the addition of a single food, blueberries, to the diet may mitigate the negative cardiovascular effects that often occur as a result of menopause," explained Johnson.
To test this theory, her team gave 48 postmenopausal women with pre- and stage-1 hypertension either 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to one cup of fresh blueberries) or 22 grams of placebo powder for a period of eight weeks.
Before the study began, participant's blood pressure was taken, and their arterial stiffness measured, as well as select blood biomarkers.
According to the results, participants in the blueberry-treated group had a decrease in systolic blood pressure, or the top number in blood pressure readings that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats.
Diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number measuring the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, decreased by 6.3 percent. Additionally, the blueberry-treated group had an average reduction of 6.5 percent in arterial stiffness.
Also, nitric oxide, a blood biomarker known to be involved in the process of widening arteries, increased by more than 68 percent, an important revelation considering that arterial stiffness and the narrowing of blood vessels are both a part of hypertension, according to Johnson.
Previous studies on blueberries that showed positive effects on heart risk factors, including blood pressure, used a much higher dose of blueberries (equivalent to 11 cups of fresh berries) to reach their results.
Future studies will likely consider lower, more realistic dosages to test blueberries' positive health effects.