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A conversation with Dr. Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, Professor and Researcher Studying Health Effects of Wild Blueberries

Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, PhD is a Professor of Clinical Nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Maine’s School of Food and Agriculture.  She has been there for 25 years.

In 2001, she began studying Wild Blueberries, because they are an excellent source of manganese, a trace mineral that plays an important role in bone development and other body functions. In fact, the special smaller Wild Blueberries contain 200% of the daily recommended value of manganese per cup, six times more than even regular blueberries. Since 2001, Klimis-Zacas has published numerous research studies both on manganese in Health and Disease and the role of Wild Blueberries on Cardiovascular Disease and the Metabolic Syndrome.

Recently, she was part of a research team that revealed that Wild Blueberries promote better gastrointestinal and digestive health, a significant finding due to gut health’s key role in overall immune system health.

In the study, researchers found that humans and animals fed a diet of Wild Blueberries 
showed an increase in bacteria beneficial to overall gut health. Researchers attribute the increase in the beneficial bacteria to the potential of Wild Blueberry components to act as prebiotics. Prebiotics are plant substances that promote the growth beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.

According to Klimis-Zacas, “These beneficial bacteria, called probiotics, are critical to helping the body maintain good digestive and immune system health.”  A few of her recent studies include: “Wild blueberry consumption improves inflammatory status in the obese Zucker rat model of the metabolic syndrome”, “Wild blueberry-enriched diet improves dyslipidaemia and modulates the expression of genes related to lipid metabolism in obese Zucker rats“, and a study on the Metabolic Syndrome and functional arterial properties of Wild Blueberries.

Conversation with Dr. Dorothy Klimis-Zacas

We recently sat down with Dorothy to learn more about why she finds working with Wild Blueberries so fulfilling and what she enjoys doing outside the lab.

Wild About Health: What is most rewarding about your work?

Dorothy: You are the first to know about a topic, which nobody else has explored. The discovery of it is very exciting. One day is not the same as the other in the lab, and there is no fear that you will get bored. Also I believe that sharing knowledge and experience with students or younger colleagues, will one day have a multiplier effect and may translate in breakthroughs to improve health.

I consider my colleagues in the U.S. and abroad (fellow scientists) and my students as part of my extended family and consider myself fortunate to have met them and collaborate with them.

Wild About Health: Why do you like doing studies with Wild Blueberries?

Dorothy: When we first started, there was no research published in this area. It was an uncharted field.  I was one of the few first scientists who began working with the berry. The early studies we conducted on the role of Wild Blueberries and vascular function were crucial because they documented the important beneficial effects of Wild Blueberries and prompted other scientists to explore their role in other diseases.

I continued, because I am learning and challenged daily with new questions. There are so much we still do not know and so many new areas to be studied such as the metabolic fate of the bioactive compounds, the function on health of specific bioactives in Wild Blueberries and many others.

Wild About Health: What is on the horizon?  Goals for the future?

Dorothy: I will be more and more involved with the Slow Food Movement http://www.slowfood.com and introduce my model from “Farm to Healthy Body”.  This model extends the present model from “Farm to Fork or Table” to what happens to food after it gets inside the body and how that in turn may promote health or predispose to disease. I have many plans, but nothing is defined yet. I hope to further develop this new model during my Sabbatical leave next spring at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Pollenzo, Italy.

Wild About Health: If you magically had a bunch of free time and could learn one trade, what would it be? What would you make/do?

Dorothy: There are so many things I’m interested in, especially playing music. I already play the piano, but would play more. I also play the accordion and guitar and I am a trained soprano. My minor in college was in music.

Dorothy’s Wild Blueberry Sauce
As an added bonus, Dorothy shared a super simple and delicious recipe for a Wild Blueberry sauce she developed. She enjoys it over oatmeal, lemon yogurt, ice cream and salmon.  Simple.

For great recipes, and related health information about Wild Blueberries, visit
www.wildblueberries.com, www.wildblueberryhealthblog.com, and follow
www.facebook.com/wildblueberries, http://www.pinterest.com/wbeditor/, and www.twitter.com/WildBBerries4U.

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