Wild Blueberry May Support Intestinal Balance
Friendly bacteria may improve mineral absorption, immune function, and help prevent the growth of harmful micro-organisms in the gut
The right balance of intestinal bacteria is important to good health, and that balance in influenced by what we eat. Adding to a variety of available probiotic foods and supplements, in a new study, researchers found that probiotic colonies of beneficial bifidobacteria and lactobacilli increased in people taking a powdered drink made from wild blueberries.
Beneficial intestinal bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria digest fibers and sugars that make their way to the large intestine. This digestive action may improve colon health and possibly help prevent colon cancer. In addition, friendly bacteria may improve mineral absorption, immune function, and help prevent the growth of harmful micro-organisms in the gut.
Wild blueberry vs. sugar
The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, was a crossover trial: half of the 20 men in the study were assigned to receive a test drink for the first six-week phase and placebo for the second six-week phase, while the other half received the opposite. The test drink was made with 25 grams of wild blueberry powder and water, and the placebo drink contained 14.5 grams of sugars (fructose and glucose), blueberry flavor, artificial colors, and citric acid.
Researchers examined cultures of stool samples taken at the beginning and end of each phase. These showed:
- Bifidobacteria doubled after the wild blueberry drink but was unchanged after placebo.
- Lactobacillus acidophilus increased almost 7 times after the blueberry drink and 5.5 times after placebo.
- Levels of other normal intestinal bacteria were essentially unchanged by the blueberry and placebo drinks.
Bifidobacteria prefer wild blueberry
"The results of our study suggest that regular consumption of a wild blueberry drink can shift the composition of the intestinal microbiota, increasing in particular bifidobacteria, a group of commensal intestinal microorganisms demonstrated to benefit human health. Ongoing experiments are demonstrating that bioactive components of wild blueberry, such as dietary fibers and polyphenols, are responsible for the selective stimulation of the growth of these health-promoting bacteria,” said study co-authors Dr. Patrizia Riso and Dr. Simone Gugliemetti at the University of Milan, Italy.
Supporting healthy gut bacteria
Our dietary habits have a profound influence on the make-up of our gut bacteria. Here are some things you can do to help the healthiest bacteria thrive:
- Eat lots of fiber. Insoluble fiber, or roughage, helps keep intestinal bacterial colonies strong.
- Focus on fruits and vegetables. Bananas, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke (or sunchoke), and asparagus are especially high in a type of natural carbohydrate that promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
- Choose fermented and cultured foods. Yogurt, kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso are among the many tasty foods that contain lactobacilli and other beneficial bacterial strains.
(J Agric Food Chem 2011;dx.doi.org/10.1021/jf2028686)
Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.