A study out of France, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has found that an extract from bilberries is effective at preventing hardening of the arteries and boosting heart health. Bilberries, as you might have guessed, are related to the North American blueberry and are found around Northern Europe and the U.K. They have been noted for their unique anthocyanin profile, meaning the phytonutrients that give many dark berries and other fruits their distinctive colors and are also potent antioxidants.
The study looked at whether a yeast-fermented version of bilberry extract was more effective at reducing arterial plaques in mice than the unfermented version. The study reports, “the lesion area was decreased by 15 per cent in the [untreated bilberry extract] group and by 36 per cent in the yeast-fermented bilberry extract group, compared to the control group.”
This has lead researchers to speculate that the fermentation process adds a new compound with even more health-promoting properties than the bilberry anthocyanins alone. This makes sense in light of the fact that other fermentation processes have resulted in greater antioxidant potential. Lactofermented foods, for example, have been found to contain an abundance of vitamin C, another potent antioxidant.
The study also lends some credence to a holistic theory of what causes arterial plaques in the first place. It is believed that a lack of antioxidants in the blood can lead to excessive free radical damage to the interior of arteries. Without the antioxidants there to neutralize free radicals, they’re left unbound to wreak havoc on your defenseless arteries. This arterial damage leads to plaque formation, which is there to repair the artery walls. Too much damage to the arteries leads to more arterial plaque, hardening of the arteries and higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
The introduction of potent antioxidants in the form of bilberry extract would help to prevent this arterial damage from happening, thereby preventing plaque formation and atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) is considered to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD).
Researchers say that further analysis is needed to determine exactly what in the fermented bilberry extract leads to the increased health benefits and to determine its mechanism of action, though they have theorized that the mystery component may be anthocyanin-derived polymeric pigments.
Unfortunately, bilberries are quite difficult to find here in Canada. While bilberry extract supplements can be found in health food stores or online supplement retailers, the berries themselves are rarely seen this side of the Atlantic. Although scientific research would need to be done to see if this is the case, I suspect the bilberry’s close cousin the blueberry may have similar effects on circulatory health.
Author: The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale