This tiny food packs big benefits for your microbiome

A recent study found that blueberries significantly improve gut health, reduce systemic inflammation, and improve insulin response. They even decrease cellular factors linked to cancer.

This breakthrough study illustrates two important, over-arching points…

First, it shows how all the systems in the human body tie together. And what benefits one system in your body — such as your digestive system — also benefits all the other systems in your body, such as your immune system.

Second, it shows how natural approaches such as blueberries can “walk and chew gum at the same time.” In other words, natural approaches don’t just target one specific health factor, such as blood sugar. Instead, they multi-task, benefitting many different factors at once.

By comparison, drugs only target one factor at a time. This explains why mainstream doctors often focus on treating a single symptom within the body, rather than focusing on the individual as a whole. Of course, let’s not forget that while they can only treat one symptom at a time, many of these drugs can cause numerous other unpleasant — and even dangerous — symptoms (or, as they’re more commonly known, side effects).

It’s no wonder modern science also seems to have tunnel vision…scientists must continually look at the disjointed pieces of the puzzle for disease prevention and treatment.

And we’re the ones who have to put it all back together.

New study spotlights origins of disease in the gut

The researchers for the new study opened their paper, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition, with a discussion about the human microbiome — the environment in your gut where trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria thrive. These healthy, diverse colonies of bacteria protect you from obesity, inflammation, and chronic diseases.

Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that improving gut health will strengthen your resistance against obesity, chronic inflammation, and markers of disease. This train of thought brought them to blueberries, which contain loads of colorful anthocyanins, known to reduce inflammation and harmful free radicals.

So, the researchers decided to investigate blueberries’ effect on gut bacteria. They tested their theories by giving blueberry powder to lab rats.

First, the researchers divided rats into three groups:

• The first group was fed a straightforward high-fat diet (which included 40 percent calories from fat) for eight weeks.
• The second group was fed a high-fat diet plus blueberry powder.
• The third group was fed a low-fat diet (which included 10 percent calories from fat).

At the end of eight weeks, the researchers measured glucose tolerance, microbiome composition, intestinal function, and chronic inflammation.

In the mice fed the high-fat diet with blueberry powder, the researchers observed:

• Significant improvements in the composition and diversity of the healthy bacteria in the gut (also known as probiotics)
• Restored length of intestinal villus (the small, finger-like projections that line the intestines, improving digestion and absorption of nutrients)
• Decreased cellular markers associated with cancer
• Improved markers of insulin sensitivity and response

Those are some pretty substantial benefits for a tiny berry.

If you’ve been a longtime Daily Dispatch reader, you already know I’m a fan of blueberries. As a child, I grew up picking them wild in New England.

Just one cup of blueberries provides nearly 4 grams of fiber, one-quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C, and over one-third of your daily dose of vitamin K. This colorful fruit is also rich in antioxidants.

Over the years, I’ve reported on many studies showing how blueberries protect your blood vessels, reduce blood pressure, and improve your memory. They also lower your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and dementia.
But this is the first study I know of that demonstrates their benefits directly in the GI tract.

Microbiome is the gateway to health

With studies like this one, we continue to learn more and more about how herbs, nutrients, and even drugs like metformin work by influencing the all-important microbiome.

And it may lead you to wonder about taking a probiotic supplement. But the problem with probiotic supplements — as I’ve always saidis that there is no quality evidence showing that they actually work.

I’m glad to see highly technical lab studies like these continue to put together the individual pieces of the puzzle. Of course, it could be years until medical practice catches up and sees the “big picture.” But you don’t have to wait.

You can put delicious blueberries to work for you — right now.

Sprinkle them on your morning oatmeal, add them to salads, or just eat them a handful at a time.

Just make sure to load up on organic blueberries to avoid any trace of toxic pesticide. For added assurance (and to keep some money in your pocket) plant your own blueberry bush this spring! Better yet, go blueberry picking at a nearby farm to both support your local agricultural community and reap the health benefits from a little time in the sunshine.

You can also opt for blueberry powder, which can be found in most local health supplement retailers and online. Look for products that contain at least 200 mg daily doses of blueberry powder. You can even find it combined with other powerhouse ingredients like baobab, rooibos (red bush), and rose hips.

So, when it comes to nourishing your microbiome (and in turn, supporting all of your bodily systems), don’t forget that good things come in small (blue) packages.

Always on the side of science,

Marc S. Micozzi, M.D., Ph.D.

“Blueberry Supplementation Influences the Gut Microbiota, Inflammation, and Insulin Resistance in High-Fat-Diet–Fed Rats,” The Journal of Nutrition 2/1/2018; 148(2)2: 209–219