The Doctor Is In: Blueberries

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ST. LOUIS, MO (KPLR) – Diabetes, memory loss, excess weight, tumors, blood pressure – these are just a few of the conditions on which blueberries may have a positive effect, according to studies.

Dr. Sonny Saggar talks with Christine Buck about the blueberry and other antioxidants.

You can also connect with Dr. Saggar, the Medical Director at St. Louis Urgent Cares, and ask him any questions you like via:

Sonny Saggar MD


1. Is the blueberry as good as the studies claim?

In a word, YES. Blueberries have high levels of antioxidants and are very high in vitamin C. Add blueberries to pancakes, waffles, muffins, pies, and other dishes to add extra nutrients to everyday meals.

Busting belly fat may be yet another of blueberries’ health benefits.

Rats who were fed a diet rich in blueberries lost abdominal fat -- the kind of fat linked to heart disease and diabetes -- as well as experienced other health benefits like lowered cholesterol and improved glucose control even if, get this, even if their diet wasn’t otherwise heart-healthy!

Antioxidant-rich blueberries may change how the body stores and processes glucose or sugar for energy, thereby reducing the risk of both heart disease and diabetes.

Men with risk factors for heart disease who drank wild blueberry juice for three weeks seemed to experience some improvements in glucose and insulin control.

2. What are antioxidants?

An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons or hydrogen from a substance to an oxidizing agent. Oxidation reactions can produce free radicals. In turn, these radicals can start chain reactions. When the chain reaction occurs in a cell, it can cause damage or death to the cell. Antioxidants terminate these chain reactions by removing free radical intermediates, and inhibit other oxidation reactions.

3. Why all the hype about antioxidants?

Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals. Many experts believe this damage is a factor in the development of blood vessel disease (atherosclerosis), cancer, and other conditions.

You are exposed to free radicals through by-products of normal processes that take place in your body (such as the burning of sugars for energy and the release of digestive enzymes to break down food).

Also, when the body breaks down certain medicines. And finally, through pollutants.

Antioxidants include some vitamins (such as vitamins C and E), some minerals (such as selenium), and flavonoids, which are found in plants. The best sources of antioxidants are fruits and vegetables. You can find flavonoids in fruits, red wine, and teas. You can also buy antioxidant supplements, but it is best to obtain antioxidants from a healthy diet, because not all supplements are as safe as they claim and really only vehicles for some companies to make billions of dollars by claiming to ‘bottle the genie’ or in the form of a ‘magic pill’.

4. What are antioxidants used for?

People use antioxidants to help treat or prevent some medical conditions, such as coronary artery disease (CAD), some cancers, macular degeneration, Alzheimer's disease, and some arthritis-related conditions.

The treatment of CAD with antioxidant supplements as well as with traditional medicine continues to be researched. Some experts believe antioxidant vitamins may help in treating CAD, although so far studies have not proved this.

5. Are antioxidants safe?

Until more studies are done, it is best to get your antioxidants from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables rather than from supplements. Taking supplements in high doses can be harmful. No single antioxidant alone can protect the body. Most people should eat 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be sold with limited or no research on how well it works. In other words, don’t get taken in by the infomercials and hype - just eat real fruits and vegetables.

Always tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

When using dietary supplements, keep in mind the following:

  • Like conventional medicines, dietary supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you are taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may make your health worse.
  • How dietary supplements are manufactured may not be standardized. Because of this, how well they work or any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different lots of the same brand. The form of a supplement that you buy in health food or grocery stores may not be the same as the form used in research.
  • Other than for vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most dietary supplements are not known.

Dr. Saggar’s Top Antioxidants:

Beans: The more colorful beans, such as red and black, may have an added bonus. Beans contain eight flavonoids, plant substances that act as nature’s dyes and give many fruits and vegetables their colors. Scientists say these plant chemicals act as antioxidants to give you some protection against heart disease and certain cancers. Serve beans as a side dish or substitute them for meat once or twice a week. Beans, including pinto, garbanzo, white, black, red, and navy, are naturally low in fat and contain no saturated fat, trans fats, or cholesterol. They are high in protein, fiber, iron, folic acid, and potassium. In addition to health benefits related to heart disease and cancer, studies also suggest eating beans may help manage diabetes and cut the risk of high blood pressure and stroke. People who eat legumes (beans, peas, and peanuts) four or more times each week lower their risk of developing heart disease significantly, when compared with those who eat them less than once a week.

Blueberries: Blueberries have awesome health benefits. They’re loaded with a healthy plant-chemical called anthocyanins, which give them that blue hue and provide some protection against heart disease. Some research also indicates that blueberries may have a positive effect on improving night vision and reducing blood glucose levels. Frozen blueberries are just as nutritious as fresh.

Cranberries: For years, doctors have touted the fact that cranberries prevent harmful bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract, thus cutting down on the possibility of UTIs or urinary tract infections. Now some researchers also point out that cranberries are high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients important for protecting the body against heart disease, cancer, and other conditions, such as memory loss.

Artichokes: Low in calories and sodium, artichokes are packed with vitamin C, folate, and fiber. For beginners, artichokes from the jar are available. If you're up for adventure, try the fresh variety, which take a little practice to snip and trim.

Blackberries: Packed with anthocyanins, a plant chemical that gives them their deep color and act as antioxidants, blackberries are also rich in vitamin C and fiber, which have been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and heart disease.

Prunes: Long revered as a good source of fiber, prunes are also being recognized for their antioxidant properties and helping slow age-related mental and physical problems.

Raspberries: High in polyphenolic compounds, which are plant chemicals that act as powerful antioxidants and fight cardiovascular disease and cancer, raspberries help fight inflammation and have been used to reduce arthritis-related pain.

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So, in summary, foods such as berries and beans are known to be great for your health, probably because of their antioxidant properties, but it’s not really proven. Eat them whenever you can, but be careful using supplements. I typically caution against dietary supplements - they’re just not as good as the real thing.


You can also connect with Dr. Saggar, the Medical Director at St. Louis Urgent Cares, and ask him any questions you like via:

Sonny Saggar MD