20 Years of Health Research

Since 1997, the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) has been collaborating with elite scientists to help study the health benefits of wild blueberries. WBANA is dedicated to furthering research that explores the health potential of wild blueberries and annually funds research studies that help advance the understanding of the nutritional and human health benefits of wild blueberries.

Each year, WBANA has hosts the Wild Blueberry Health Research Summit in Bar Harbor, Maine, a worldwide gathering of renowned scientists and researchers from leading institutions representing broad disciplines — from cardiovascular health to cancer to heart disease, osteoporosis, neurological diseases of aging, and more. Their work is leading the way to learn more about the health benefits of wild blueberries, and their findings, which use rigorous methodology, are documented in a growing number of published studies on the potential health and disease-fighting benefits of wild blueberries. All published research studies are written by and submitted to peer-reviewed journals by the researcher, independent of WBANA.

Below are scientific research papers that provide more detail into the role wild blueberries may play in promoting human health.

Anthocyanins: targeting of signaling networks in cancer cells

Sehitoglu, M. H.; Farooqi, A. A.; Qureshi, M. Z.; Butt, G.; Aras, A.
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It is becoming progressively more understandable that phytochemicals derived from edible plants have shown potential in modelling their interactions with their target proteins. Rapidly accumulating in-vitro and in- vivo evidence indicates that anthocyanins have anticancer activity in rodent models of cancer. More intriguingly, evaluation of bilberry anthocyanins as chemopreventive agents in twenty-five colorectal cancer patients has opened new window of opportunity in translating the findings from laboratory to clinic. Confluence of information suggests that anthocyanins treated cancer cells reveal up-regulation of tumor suppressor genes. There is a successive increase in the research-work in nutrigenomics and evidence has started to shed light on intracellular-signaling cascades as common molecular targets for anthocyanins. In this review we bring to limelight how anthocyanins induced apoptosis in cancer cells via activation of extrinsic and intrinsic pathways.


Stressed for success: how the berry’s wild origins result in multifaceted health protections [electronic resource]

Lila, M. A.; Kraft, T. B.; Rogers, R. B.; Yousef, G. G.; Kellogg, J.; Grace, M. H.
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In the harsh, unprotected wilds, environmental or climatic stressors (elicitors) provoke the deposition of health-protective secondary phytochemicals in plants that will help them adapt and thrive. For berries endemic to the wind-battered open plains of the Dakotas, the arctic tundra of Alaska, exposed elevations in the Andean Mountains or the nutrient-starved lava flows of Pacific Islands, certain stresses can be taken to extreme limits, triggering deposition of potent phytochemical mixtures within berry fruits. The unique and sometimes dramatic phytochemical melange not only protects the host plant from insult, but also offers broad-spectrum health benefits to the animals (including humans) that consume these berries. Traditional diets in many native cultures have featured wild game, seafood, and a plethora of these wild berry species including salmonberries, mossberries, maquiberry, buffaloberry, blue huckleberries and bog blueberries. In recent years, just as native communities have shifted towards more Western diets and away from traditions, the incidence of diabetes and obesity has risen. In partnership with local Native American and Alaska Native communities, our teams have investigated the health protective (and in particular, anti-diabetic and obesity-inhibiting) properties of indigenous berries as conditioned by environmental and climatic stress in the wild growing sites. Various wild berries were examined in field bioassays, then in lab analyses, and proved capable of dose-dependent inhibition of proinflammatory cytokines associated with metabolic syndrome, and inhibition of aldose reductase, an enzyme associated with diabetic retinopathy. The complexity of the phytochemical profiles of the wild berries and potentiating interactions between anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, and other flavonoid phytochemicals contributed to the modulation of specific cellular targets related to metabolic syndrome and obesity.


Incorporation of cultured bilberry cells in cosmetics, dietary supplements, and/or functional foods

Caldwell, C. G.; Sung-Yong, H. Yoon
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Compositions include cultured bilberry cells or extracts thereof mixed with a cosmetic component or a food component to yield cosmetics, dietary supplements, and/or functional foods. The cultured bilberry cells or extracts can have high levels of polyphenols with little or no anthocyanins. The polyphenol fraction from the cultured bilberry cells is unique compared to the polyphenol fraction from the tissues of a traditional bilberry plant. The cultured cells have high levels of natural flavonols, flavan-3-ols and procyanidins, but are notably lacking in anthocyanins and chlorogenic acid.


The effects of fruit antioxidants on skin photoaging. / Wpyw przeciwutleniaczy zawartych w owocach na proces fotostarzenia sie skóry

Nowak, A.; Zielonka, J.; Turek, M.; Klimowicz, A.
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One of the important adverse effects induced by certain harmful environmental factors in humans body seems to be skin photoaging. This process is influenced by the free radicals, formed by solar radiation. However, human’s body possess limited capacity for free radicals destruction or inactivation. In order to support the protective action of the human body the antioxidants are applied. They can be either of natural or synthetic origin. The fruits seems to be one of the important source of natural antioxidants. This group of substances could be applied in order to prevent heart, hematological as well as the central and peripheral nervous system disorders, in alleviating the symptoms of menopause, allergy etc. Antioxidants could also modulate diverse biochemical processes involved in carcinogenesis. Moreover, they may exert their inhibitory effect on skin photoaging. Therefore, these compounds are increasingly applied to produce cosmetic formulations. Antioxidants reduce the harmful effect of ultraviolet radiation on the skin. Their mechanism of action is based on scavenging and counteracting of free radicals, thus preventing oxidative damage. Therefore, these compounds are considered to be complementary to physical and chemical UV filters. Humans ingest a lot of antioxidants as food constituents. One of the most rich sources seems to be fruits, particularly those containing anthocyans i.e. flavonoid’s dyes. Their antioxidant action is due to the activity of flavonoids and ascorbic acid. The following fruits should be taken into account: black chokeberry, grapes and some berries, i.e. bilberries, blueberries, also blackcurrants as well as citrus fruits.


Nanoberries for topical delivery of antioxidants

Montanari, J.; Vera, M.; Mensi, E.; Morilla, M.; Romero, E.
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With the aim of improving the antioxidant activity of polyphenols from blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) on skin targets after topical application, ethanolic extracts from three blueberry varieties (named Millenia, O’Neal, and Blue Crisp) were loaded into ultradeformable liposomes. These nanocarriers are known to be capable of penetrating through the stratum corneum reaching its deeper layers and the viable epidermis. On the other hand, blueberries contain large amounts of polyphenols, whose antioxidant properties as tissue protectors against processes mediated by reactive oxygen species have been extensively proved. Blueberries are usually consumed as edible products, but their antioxidant compounds are poorly absorbed. The antioxidant properties of the extracts were screened before and after being loaded into ultradeformable liposomes made of soy phosphatidylcholine and sodium cholate, of nearly 100 nm in size at 0.223 extract/lipid w/w. The ethanolic extract-loaded ultradeformable liposomes (nanoberries) from Millenia variety retained an 85% of the antioxidant capacity of the free extract and showed low cytotoxicity on HaCaT cells (less than 20%) at active concentration against free radicals.


Bog blueberry anthocyanins alleviate photoaging in ultraviolet-B irradiation-induced human dermal fibroblasts

Ji-Young, Bae; Soon Sung, Lim; Sun Ju, Kim; Jung-Suk, Choi; Jinseu, Park; Sung Mi, Ju; Seoung Jun, Han; Il-Jun, Kang; Young-Hee, Kang
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Anthocyanin-rich extracts were obtained from bog blueberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) and their potential protective mechanisms against UV-induced skin photoageing were studied in a UV-B-exposed human dermal fibroblast model. Anthocyanins present in extracts were identified as cyanidin-3, malvidin-3, delphinidin-3 and petunidin-3 glucosides. Cell culture studies revealed photoprotective actions of anthocyanin-rich blueberry extracts on fibroblast collagen collapse and inflammatory responses associated with photoageing. At nutraceutically relevant doses blueberry extracts mitigated UV-B-induced oxidant injury leading to DNA damage and subsequent activation of the ATR-p53-Bad apoptosis pathway which appeared responsible for fibroblast survival. Results also demonstrated modulation of nuclear factor-κB and mitogen activated protein kinase signalling which may entail photodamage caused by UV-induced destructive cascade of collagen. It is suggested that dietary interventions with blueberry extracts may provide a promising rationale for development of strategies aimed at limiting sun light-induced photoageing.


Bilberry extract reduces UVA-induced oxidative stress in HaCaT keratinocytes: a pilot study

Svobodova, A.; Rambouskova, J.; Walterova, D.; Vostalova, J.
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Exposure to UVA radiation is known to cause many adverse biological effects by inducing the stricken cells to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS). In recent years the use of botanicals has received considerable interest in the skin protection. Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.) fruit contains several polyphenols with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In this study we evaluated potential UVA preventive effect of V. myrtillus fruit extract (VME; anthocyanins, 25% w/w) in HaCaT keratinocytes. Pre-treatment (1 h) or post-treatment (4 h) of HaCaT with VME resulted in attenuation of UVA-caused damage. Application of the extract significantly reduced UVA-stimulated ROS formation in keratinocytes. VME also prevented/reduced UVA-caused peroxidation of membrane lipids and depletion of intracellular GSH. The observed cytoprotective effect may be linked to the antioxidant activity of the plant constituents, namely anthocyanins.


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Looking for more health research?

Contact KIT BROIHIER, resident nutrition adviser to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America

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Kit Broihier, MS, RD, LD is the Nutrition advisor and spokesperson for the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian with a Masters Degree in Nutrition and is the owner of NutriComm Inc., a food communications consulting company specializing in nutrition communications.

Ms. Broihier received a Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics from Michigan State University and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition Communications from Boston University.