Blueberries Can Help Counteract Intestinal Diseases

By Dr. Mercola


Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamins. But new research shows that blueberry fiber is also important and can alleviate and protect against intestinal inflammations, such as ulcerative colitis.

The protective effect is even better if the blueberries are eaten together with probiotics.

Blueberries are rich in polyphenols, which have an antimicrobial and antioxidative effect. The combination of blueberries and probiotics reduced inflammation-inducing bacteria in the intestine at the same time as the number of health-promoting lactobacilla increased.

For such a tiny fruit, blueberries pack a powerful punch. In tests pitting blueberry husks against rye bran or oat bran, the blueberry fiber showed the most benefit for intestinal health, hands down. This is good news, since your body requires about 50 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed.

Blueberries contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, and are known to help relieve both diarrhea and constipation. In addition, they're rich in the soluble fiber pectin, which helps to lower cholesterol.

For those of you suffering from intestinal diseases such as ulcerative colitis, blueberries also work together with probiotics to alleviate and protect against such conditions.

Why Blueberries Boost Your Intestinal Health

Inflammatory bowel disease, which includes both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, are autoimmune diseases that can have very serious consequences. The condition causes your intestines to become inflamed, leading to abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, weight loss and other potentially serious complications in your intestines, along with increasing your risk of colon cancer.

Blueberry's protective effect on this group of diseases is two-fold.

First, blueberries are rich in polyphenols, which have both antimicrobial and antioxidant effects. When combined with probiotics, the combo not only reduced inflammation-inducing bacteria, but also increased the amount of healthy good bacteria.

The fiber in blueberries is also not highly degraded in your large intestines. What this means is that substances that can cause inflammation are kept from contacting the lining of your intestines. Instead, they are embedded in the blueberry fiber, where they do not cause harm, and are then transported out of your body during elimination.

Adding blueberries to your diet may be a natural way to prevent colon cancer, as well. They contain an antioxidant compound called pterostilbene that inhibits genes involved in inflammation, which is thought to be a risk factor for colon cancer.

Blueberries are also a good source of ellagic acid, which is known to block metabolic pathways that may lead to cancer.

More Reasons to Eat Blueberries

Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Center (HNRCA) have ranked blueberries number one in antioxidant activity when compared to 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables, so there are many reasons for adding blueberries to your diet, even beyond their intestinal benefits.

For instance, blueberries provide natural protection against:

Blueberries may also offer protection against metabolic syndrome (which can lead to diabetes), the accumulation of abdominal fat, and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

As an interesting side note, another unusual way to benefit from blueberries is to add them to your ground beef before cooking (ideally at low temperatures) as they help prevent cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCA) from forming in the meat.

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Blueberries' Effectiveness Boosted by Probiotics

The Swedish researchers in the above article found that the protective effect of blueberries is amplified when they're eaten together with probiotics.

One reason for this appears to be that probiotics help your body to absorb butyric acid and propionic acid, which are important substances for intestinal cell energy formed when fiber is broken down.

Probiotics, or good bacteria, can also help inflammatory bowel disease on their own. Researchers from the University of Bologna in Italy and the University of North Carolina found that ulcerative colitis improved in the majority of patients taking a probiotic mixture of eight bacteria for six weeks.

The probiotic mixture helped to:

  • Reduce the number of "bad" bacteria

  • Reduce the amount of inflammation

  • Increase the mucus layer in the gut

  • Increase the amount of anti-inflammatory molecules in the intestine

If you have IBD, taking healthy doses of probiotics should be high on your list of priorities. The live microorganisms in probiotic supplements help to replenish and maintain the friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract. Good bacteria drive down the pH of your gut, which creates an inhospitable environment for bad bacteria. The result is that the good guys flourish and the bad guys are kept in check.

Fermented foods, such as natto and kefir, are also loaded with beneficial, healthy bacteria, and you should eat these wonderful, healing foods regularly -- especially if you have an intestinal disease.

Given this new research about blueberries and probiotics, a simple way to get the benefits of both would be to blend organic blueberries with raw kefir to make a probiotic-rich smoothie.

Avoid Overdoing It

Even though blueberries are loaded with powerful benefits, like most good things you want to avoid overdoing it. The major issue would be the amount of fructose in them, but they are relatively low in fructose so a pint would seem a reasonable amount to consume.

Natural Help for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Most conventional treatments for IBD focus on relieving your symptoms with anti-inflammatory drugs, or surgically removing the affected part of your intestines.

These drugs non-specifically suppress your immune system and provide temporary relief, but at an enormous cost to your health. They wind up exchanging symptom relief for an authentic solution that will not only address your bowel disease but also help you regain your health.

As I said earlier, one of the easiest and most important approaches is to supplement your diet with a high-quality probiotic and fermented foods. You will also want to make sure you're getting plenty of high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats, such as those in krill oil.

The omega-3 fats in krill oil, EPA and DHA, have immune-boosting qualities along with anti-inflammatory properties that are proven to benefit disorders of the gut, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

In addition, you'll want to avoid sugar, as it will increase inflammation by increasing your insulin levels. You will need to restrict your intake of carbs primarily to those from vegetables (which means you'll have to be careful not to overeat fruits, including blueberries, as well).

Many with inflammatory bowel disease also have gluten sensitivities, which is why avoiding grains is also helpful for many with IBD.

But probably the single most important, and interestingly the easiest step you can take is to make sure your vitamin D level is in the healthy, therapeutic range. In my view it is reprehensible and irresponsible not to measure the levels of vitamin D in patients with IBD, as science has shown for some time the importance of vitamin D in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

I actually posted a study on this 10 years ago!

One of the reasons that vitamin D may work for inflammatory bowel disease is that it helps your body produce over 200 antimicrobial peptides that help fight all sorts of infections -- and there are many experts who believe inflammatory bowl disease has an infectious trigger.

In simple terms, if you're vitamin D deficient, your immune system will not activate to do its job. And since vitamin D also modulates (balances) your immune response, it prevents an overreaction in the form of inflammation, which can lead to autoimmune disorders like Crohn's disease.

A simple blood test will let you know if your vitamin D levels are in the healthy range, and you can find out all you need to know about this important test … and steps to boost your vitamin D level... here.

For those with IBD, taking this series of steps is absolutely crucial to recovery, but the good news is that many will find relief from this simple, all-natural treatment strategy.