Berries You Can Bank On

June 28, 2006

Berries You Can Bank On 

 Competency # 14 SUPERFOODS                      Reference: Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter 2005 May:1-4;  British Journal of Sports Medicine.2006 Aug:40(8):679-83 Dr. Joseph at Tuft's University School of Public Health loves blueberries.  It's his research that has given the boost to blueberries.  His team uses the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) scoring developed by the NIH.  This is a measure of how effective an antioxidant a food is.  Blueberries are the top of the pyramid with an ORAC score of 2400 for a cup of blueberries.  Their intense blue color comes from anthocyanins, of which there are at least 5 different ones identified so far.  Strawberries, cranberries, cherries and other brightly colored fruits all have ORAC scores in the 600-1800 range, but it's blueberries that come out on the very top. 

 Dr. Joseph discovered that a line of mice that developed an illness that looks identical to Alzheimer's in humans, can be virtually completely prevented from getting their Alzheimer's by adding blueberries to their diet (10% of calories).  Without the blueberries, their brain cells don't stay connected with their normal diet, and they get confused, can't find their way through mazes and act like Alzheimer's.  When you add the blueberries, their brains show that their neurons stay connected, even though they still develop other signs of brain pathology consistent with Alzheimer's.  Because I sent out an email last year about blueberries, some of you may question whether my memory is holding up all that well. 

The value of flavonoids is such an important concept to integrate into your personal health care that we are doing it again.  And its blueberry season now. We do know that people with the highest levels of antioxidants in their blood have lower rates of cancer.  We have been unable to find good research to date that has been prospective in nature that shows eating more antioxidants to have short-term health effects. Well, this month I found one.  The sour cherry story has been anecdotal to date.(Cherries: ORAC score 670)  Thousands of people have  "anecdotally" felt that their sore legs and joints got better when  they drank sour cherry juice.  All the nutrition gurus seemed to cautiously poo-poo that evidence.  You can now "poo-poo" back. 

This last week, in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 14 male college students were studied in a double-blind, cross-over, prospective, study that had "muscle-damaging" exercise as its component.  There was a 22% difference in strength between the groups when they had the real cherry juice and faster recovery from pain.  Of course, this is a small study but it was blinded and appears rigorous in its methodology.   The antioxidant in cherries is called quercetin.  It's different than in blueberries, but functions in nature in the same way.  

All of these classes of "antioxidants" are active in soaking up free oxygen radicals that are chemicals our body makes that have inflammatory properties and DNA damaging properties to them.  Even the inflammation of exercise and overuse seems to have a responsive component.  Is it an anti-inflammatory effect or an antioxidant effect?  Are those two different, or part of the same story?  Stay tuned.  I'm curious too.  We will find out. But for now, cherries and blueberries are in season.  It's time to party. (Ok, get a life.  Partying with blueberries?) 

www. What Will Work for Me:  I went to the grocery story and bought a case of blueberries today.  I'm going to freeze them and eat them all winter on my cereal.  And instead of taking donuts to share at work, I've got 2 pounds of cherries to take in.  Make yourself popular.  Take some of those magnificent huge cherries to work tomorrow.   And if you feel a little achy, you can try cherry juice now and feel like the world of science is finally catching up with you.

This column is written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD,Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)