Blueberries as medicine?

A single blueberry.
A single blueberry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

News about blueberries. A small study—48 post-menopausal women who were pre- or stage 1 hypertensive—showed that participants who took 22 grams (that’s .77 of an ounce for those of us who are gram-challenged) of freeze-dried blueberry powder (equivalent to about 1 cup of the fresh fruit) every day for a month lowered their blood pressure and limbered up their arteries compared to those who took a placebo. And they lost 10 pounds!

No, sorry. Just kidding on that last one.

But they did lower their systolic (top number) blood pressure by 5% and their diastolic (bottom number) BP by 6%, raised their nitric oxide (NO) levels by a whopping 68.5% and decreased arterial stiffness by 6.5%, as reported in a paper by Sarah A. Johnson and several other exercise and nutrition professors. Johnson has an impressively lengthy title: assistant director of the Center for Advancing Exercise and Nutrition Research on Aging (CAENRA) and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Nutrition, Food and Exercise Sciences at Florida State University.

Previous studies had shown impressive benefits for blueberries, but most involved consuming huge quantities (13 cups per day in one study).

Considering the cost of both freeze-dried blueberry powder (sample online price ~$2.50/oz) and fresh blueberries (a sample Peapod grocery delivery price as of this out-of-season writing ~$.50/oz, 5.2 oz = 1 cup), you’d need to spend between $1.95 and $2.60 per day to consume the appropriate amount of blueberry material. That would be between $58.50 and $78 a month—and not covered by Medicare or other health insurance.

The cost of blood pressure medication (angiotensin receptor blocker ARB) varies wildly, depending on the type prescribed and the place you buy it. One site gives ARB prices ranging from a discounted $9 to a top price of $183 for a 30-day supply.

One caveat: The study was paid for by the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. The Council is industry-funded and is in the business of marketing blueberries. But at least the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service monitors their operations.

Another study done at University of California Davis states that consuming freeze-dried blueberry powder in smoothies every day can increase insulin sensitivity – and is thus very good for anyone at risk of developing type II diabetes, a risk that grows for us Baby Boomers as we age. Too bad the participants had to cut back 500 calories on other foods to accommodate the calories in the two smoothies they drank each day.

Here’s what I conclude:

  1. Freeze-dried blueberry powder looks like a nutritionally equivalent substitute for the fresh fruit at a similar price—plus it keeps longer and is easier to store.
  2. Don’t substitute blueberries for your ARB medicine. Talk to your doctor before you invest in months’ worth of blueberry powder.
  3. I might have to break my rule against getting nutrition in liquid form and start making the occasional smoothie with some o’ that blueberry powder.

Update 2/23/17. I’m now the owner of a “high-powered’ blender to make fruit-veggie blends and – yes – smoothies. Read more about these potential powerhouses of nutrition in the review of the Sneaky Blends cookbook here.