Boost Your Heart and Brain With Blueberries

This flavorful, antioxidant-rich fruit may offer cardio and cognitive benefits.

a closeup picture of a bowl of fresh blueberries with a sprig of fresh mint on top

Updated on January 25, 2023.

If you aren’t already eating blueberries regularly, you may want to start. This low-calorie fruit is a nutrient powerhouse, packed with vitamins, fiber, and flavonoids, compounds shown to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Among their many selling points, evidence suggests that blueberries could help protect your heart and sharpen your mind as you age.

A fruit that favors your heart

Several risk factors can put you at higher risk of developing heart disease, including obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Eating blueberries has been shown to help mitigate each of these issues.

A study published in 2019 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that eating one cup of blueberries daily may improve the heart health of people with metabolic syndrome, a condition marked by factors including large waistline, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (aka “good” cholesterol), and high blood glucose levels. These factors can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 115 overweight and obese adults between the ages of 50 and 75 a daily regimen of either one cup of blueberries, one half-cup of blueberries, or a placebo. After six months, participants who ate a cup of blueberries each day had better levels of HDL and improved endothelial function and arterial stiffness—measures of the health and flexibility of blood vessels—than those who ate fewer or no berries. The study’s authors attribute the health improvements to anthocyanins, antioxidants that give blueberries their distinctive color. Other studies have shown that blueberries may lower LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) and reduce its negative impacts on the body.   

Researchers think blueberries may reduce levels of fat in the blood in part because of their liver-supportive effects. The liver helps the body regulate cholesterol levels, and compounds in blueberries appear to help activate certain genes in the liver, which give it a boost in doing its job more efficiently.

Blueberries’ heart benefits don’t stop there. A small 2020 trial published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition looked at overweight, middle-aged men with diabetes. After eight weeks of consuming 22 grams of freeze-dried berries daily, their triglyceride levels dropped from 199 mg/dl to 179 mg/dl. A large study of women aged 25 to 42 found that eating more than three portions per week of blueberries and strawberries (another good source of anthocyanins) reduced the risk of heart attacks by as much as 34 percent.

The little blue snack has also been shown to help reduce high blood pressure in postmenopausal women. In a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, women who were prehypertensive—with blood pressure regularly between 120/90 and 139/89—were given 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder daily over eight weeks. At the end of the study, blood pressure levels among blueberry consumers had dropped from about 138/80 to 131/75. There was no change in the other group’s numbers.

Researchers think a key factor at play may be nitric oxide. Antioxidants have been shown to increase nitric oxide production—which, in turn, may help widen blood vessels, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.

Staying mentally sharp as you age

What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. The anthocyanins found in blueberries could help improve cognitive function in healthy older adults. The results of some research suggests that blueberries may also help ward-off age-related brain changes.

In a small study published in the journal Nutrients in 2022, researchers from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center enrolled people between the ages of 50 and 65 who were overweight and had some cognitive decline. After 12 weeks, the participants taking half a cup of blueberry powder daily performed better on word retrieval and memory tests than the placebo group. The researchers suggest that blueberries may help protect against cognitive decline—which may be especially meaningful for people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

These findings also support the benefits of following the Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay diet (aka, MIND diet), an eating plan that consists of brain-friendly foods, of which berries are a key component. One study found that people who followed the MIND diet most closely had a 53 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

While blueberries alone won’t prevent heart disease or mental decline, they are a key component of a disease-fighting eating plan. To harvest the full benefits of eating blueberries, it helps to incorporate them into an overall healthy eating plan like the MIND diet, DASH diet, or Mediterranean-style diet. These eating styles include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and reduce excessive intake of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Article sources open article sources

Curtis PJ, van der Velpen V, Berends L, et al. Blueberries improve biomarkers of cardiometabolic function in participants with metabolic syndrome-results from a 6-month, double-blind, randomized controlled trial [published correction appears in Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Nov 1;110(5):1262]. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019;109(6):1535-1545.
Istek, Nilgun, Gurbuz, Ozan. Investigation of the impact of blueberries on metabolic factors influencing health. Journal of Functional Foods. 2017;38:298-307.
Basu A, Du M, Leyva MJ, et al. Blueberries decrease cardiovascular risk factors in obese men and women with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr. 2010;140(9):1582-1587.
Blacker BC, Snyder SM, Eggett DL, Parker TL. Consumption of blueberries with a high-carbohydrate, low-fat breakfast decreases postprandial serum markers of oxidation. Br J Nutr. 2013;109(9):1670-1677.
Yan Z, Yang F, Hong Z, et al. Blueberry Attenuates Liver Fibrosis, Protects Intestinal Epithelial Barrier, and Maintains Gut Microbiota Homeostasis. Can J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2019;2019:5236149. Published 2019 Nov 22.
Stote KS, Wilson MM, Hallenbeck D, et al. Effect of Blueberry Consumption on Cardiometabolic Health Parameters in Men with Type 2 Diabetes: An 8-Week, Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Curr Dev Nutr. 2020;4(4):nzaa030. Published 2020 Mar 9.
Cassidy A, Mukamal KJ, Liu L, Franz M, Eliassen AH, Rimm EB. High anthocyanin intake is associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women. Circulation. 2013;127(2):188-196.
Johnson SA, Figueroa A, Navaei N, et al. Daily blueberry consumption improves blood pressure and arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with pre- and stage 1-hypertension: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115(3):369-377.
Krikorian R, Skelton MR, Summer SS, Shidler MD, Sullivan PG. Blueberry Supplementation in Midlife for Dementia Risk Reduction. Nutrients. 2022;14:1619.
Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, Sacks FM, Bennett DA, Aggarwal NT. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1007-1014.

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