If you know a hamster with a cholesterol problem, turn it loose in the blueberry patch.
And if you’re concerned about maintaining your own cholesterol at healthy levels, follow the hamster.
What’s in the blueberry patch? Pterostilbenes. And what are those?
Pterostilbenes are plant compounds similar in chemical structure to the reservatrol found in red grapes and thought responsible for the cholesterol-lowering effects of red wine.
The glitch with reservatrol and red wine, however, is that they are accompanied by alcohol, and that, for some people, can be a deal-breaker. If only there were a natural substitute which would perform as well as reservatrol in lowering levels of bad cholesterol and raising levels of good cholesterol…
So Dr. Agnes Rimando, and a team of researchers with the University of Mississippi’s Natural Products Utilization Research Unit, set out to find just such a compound. Pterostilbene was among their most promising three candidates; the performances of all three, and that of reservatrol, were measured against the cholesterol-fighting prescription drug Ciprofibrate.
The researchers tested all four compounds on a group of “hypercholseterolic” hamsters. Of all of them, pterostilbene had Ciprofibrate spinning like one of the hamsters on its wheel.
The lucky hamsters who had pterostilbene added to their diets at a concentration of 25 parts-per-million had their LDL “bad” cholesterol drop an average of 29%, their HDL “good” cholesterol increase 7%, and their plasma glucose (sugar) levels fall 14%. Their ratio of bad-to-good cholesterol was also lowered “significantly”.
The research indicated that pterostilbene outperformed Ciprofibrate by more accurately targeting those receptor protein cells in the hamsters’ livers responsible for lowering cholesterol. In addition, because it was more selective in the cells it targeted, pterostilbene caused neither of Ciprofibrate’s unpleasant side effects, nausea and muscle pain.
Because it so dramatically lowered the hamsters’ LDL cholesterol, pterostilbene may have potential as a weapon in the fight against arteriosclerosis–hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis is one of the leading causes of heart attacks.
Dr. Rimando had already discovered from earlier research that one of the most bountiful sources of peterostilbenes was the Vacccinium genus of berries. Of those berries, blueberries had the most pterostilbenes.
The news made blueberry consumption, which had been a summertime tradition in the United States for decades, an international phenomenon. Great Britain, in particular, began phoning in its orders, and the amount of U.S. blueberries exported to the United Kingdom rose 1100% from 2004 to 2005. At least two British newspapers attribute the blueberry craze directly to Dr. Rimando’s findings.
Dr. Rimando is continuing her research into pterostilbenes and the other phtyonutrients found in blueberries.
Will blueberries do for people what they did for the cholesterol-burdened hamsters? No one knows yet, so no one knows how many blueberries one would have to consume each day to see any kind of cholesterol-lowering effect. But we do know this much: blueberries may do what red wine does, without the alcohol. Blueberries may also do what Ciprofibrate does, without the side effects.
And they taste much better in pancakes, muffins, and pie.
Sam Serio is a true blue devotee of the blueberry and a life long student of health and nutrition. Sam Serio is also the producer of the Annual Chincoteague Blueberry Festival which is held the third weekend of July on the beautiful island of Chincoteague in Virginia. This midsummer celebration of nature’s tastiest and most healthy gift – the Blueberry is combined with a “Christmas in July” Craft Shopping Extravaganza the premier Fine Art and Craft event on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.