Blueberries: Can This Healthy Fruit Lower Cholesterol?

Blueberries
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Blueberry muffins, blueberry smoothies, blueberry pancakes—this delicious fruit seems to have gradually snuck into a lot of our favorite foods. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. Blueberries are chock-full of nutrients.

There are several varieties of blueberries, each containing varying amounts of healthy chemicals, such as anthrocyanins, polyphenols, vitamins, and phytosterols. Best known for their antioxidant properties, blueberries have also studied in the treatment of certain medical conditions such as diabetes, infections, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease—all with mixed results.

There are a few studies that have also looked at the blueberry’s ability to keep your lipid levels in check.

Blueberries and Their Effect on Your Lipids

There are not many studies looking at the effect of eating blueberries on cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Most of these studies have been conducted in animals, such as pigs and rats. These animals were fed a diet that consisted of blueberries taking up to about 4 percent of their daily food intake. In these studies, it was noted that total cholesterol levels were lowered by at least 8 percent and LDL cholesterol was lowered by up to 15 percent after eight weeks.

Unfortunately, there are only a couple of studies that have examined the effect of blueberry consumption on lipids in people. These studies, involving healthy individuals and people with metabolic disease, did not see any significant changes when blueberries were consumed. However, in one study, it was noted that drinking a one-liter mixture of freeze-dried and fresh blueberries lowered oxidized LDL by 28 percent.

Oxidized LDL is a type of LDL that can promote the formation of atherosclerosis.  

Blueberries Contain Cholesterol-Lowering Chemicals

Despite the lack of studies showing blueberry’s effectiveness on lowering cholesterol, there are plenty of healthy chemicals within this fruit that do have cholesterol-lowering properties:

  • One study noted that the chemical pterostilbene found in blueberries may bind to the PPAR-alpha (peroxisome proliferator activated receptor-alpha). This protein reduces the amount of lipids in the blood and works similar to fibrates, a class of lipid-lowering medications. 
  • Anthocyaninin, an antioxidant chemical responsible for the deep, bluish-purple coloring of blueberries and other fruits, has been shown to lower the oxidation of LDL.
  • Fiber, also contained in other fruits and veggies, can also help lower LDL cholesterol.
  • Phytosterols, found in blueberries and other healthy foods, have been shown in studies to slightly lower LDL levels.
  • Resveratrol is thought to lower lipid levels by targeting cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP). Studies have shown that when this protein is not functioning properly, your lipid levels may become elevated.  

Should You Include Blueberries in Your Lipid-Lowering Diet?

Although the verdict is out as to whether or not blueberries can definitely lower your cholesterol and triglycerides, they contain many, beneficial nutrients that can help promote overall health.

Additionally, blueberries are considered a cholesterol-friendly food—they are high in LDL-lowering fiber and phytosterols, while also being low in saturated fat. There are many ways to include this delicious fruit in your cholesterol-lowering diet, including:

  • blending blueberries into your favorite smoothie
  • eating a handful of plain blueberries as a quick snack
  • using blueberries as a topping for your breakfast oatmeal or yogurt
  • incorporating blueberries into other meals, such as using mashed blueberries as a topping or mixed in a side—you can even add them to a low-fat dessert

If you don’t like the taste of blueberries, there is an option to take a supplement containing blueberries or an extract of its healthy chemicals. However, you should make sure that you speak to your healthcare provider beginning a blueberry supplement. Some blueberry-containing supplements may contain other products that could interact with certain medications that you are taking or aggravate certain medical conditions.

Sources:

Basu A, Du M, Leyva MJ et al. Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr 2010; 150: 1582-1587.

Kalt W, Foote K, Fillmore SAE et al. Effect of blueberry feeding on plasma lipids in pigs. Br J Nutr 2008; 100: 70-78.

Natural Standard. (2014). Blueberry [Monograph]. Retrieved from http://naturalstandard.com/databases/hw/all/patient-blueberry.asp

Tonstad S, Klemsdal TO, Landaas S et al. No effect on increase water intake on blood viscosity and cardiovascular risk factors. Br J Nutr 2006; 96: 993-996.

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