Berries health benefit, role in heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease benefit?
November 2 2018 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

In common talk and cuisine, the term "berry" refers generically to any small, sweet fruit; in this sense, the strawberry is a berry and the tomato is not. Other berries in this, but not the botanical, sense include aggregate fruits such as the blackberry, the raspberry, and the boysenberry. These fruits tend to be small, sweet, juicy, and of a bright color contrasting with their background to make them more attractive to animals that disperse them and thus scatter widely the seeds of the plant. For information on fruits and their health benefits.
   Berries have many health benefits: They may lower the risk of erectile dysfunction. Other recent studies show they may play a potential role in the fight against Alzheimer's disease and perhaps Parkinson's disease.



Berries are widely available fresh, frozen, or dried. They can add flavor and nutrition to numerous dishes, from salads and cereals to baked goods and yogurt. Here is a list of berries: Acai berry, aronia berry, bearberry, bilberry.


Blackberry - blackberries contain anthocyanins, ellagic acid, quercetin, gallic acid, cyanidins, pelargonidins, catechins, kaempferon, and salicylic acid. These potent antioxidant compounds support normal function of the body's immune system. Anthocyanins, which give blackberries their dark color, help maintain healthy cholesterol levels that could result in better blood circulation and a healthier heart.


Black currant (also available as a supplement).


Blueberry -- Epidemiological studies find that intake of blueberries reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, death, and type 2 diabetes, and with improved weight maintenance and protection of nerve and brain health.


Boysenberry, chokeberry,  cranberry, goji, gooseberry, lingonberry, maqui berry from South America, mulberry, pyracantha berry, raspberry, strawberry and yumberry from China.


Strawberries are a good source of ellagic acid and many flavonoids in the form of anthocyanins, potent antioxidants which provide it with its characteristic red color. These antioxidants may help promote cardiovascular health as well as help maintain normal cholesterol and blood pressure levels.


Buying extracts
Several berries are available in supplement form, often as an extract. If you would like to buy these supplements, see acai berries, bilberry for extract from bilberries, and cranberry for extract from cranberries.

Nutritional benefit
They contain a great deal of beneficial compounds and are full of antioxidants and flavonoids. They are low in calories, and high in water and fiber and their taste satisfies sweets cravings for a fraction of the calories in baked goods. Berries are a particularly rich source of polyphenols. They also contain other bioactive substances, such as vitamin C. The consumption of polyphenol-rich foods (eg, cocoa, tea, and red wine) has beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and can lower the risk for heart attack.


Health benefit of berries

A diet rich in berries improves levels of HDL cholesterol and improves blood pressure. Anthocyanin is a powerful antioxidant that gives blueberries and strawberries their vibrant color. Anthocyanins may also help open blood vessels, which allows for smoother blood flow and a lower risk for high blood pressure. They have benefits for heart health and also for brain health and could reduce the risk for cancer and potentially help us live longer.
Berries are often described as “super foods,” but then, so are many other foods such as soy, garlic, and various vegetables. Are berries really such a nutritional powerhouse, or are they just one more fruit option? And is one kind of berry really better than the rest? Research does show that they are among the fruits highest in antioxidant content and that they are excellent sources of several phytochemicals that seem to help block cancer development. However, other fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients and phytochemicals with unique health benefits.  The best advice, then, is to eat berries often for their great taste and health boost, but stay focused on the main goal of eating a wide variety of produce every day.
   Edible berries have health benefits in terms of cardiovascular disorders, advancing age-induced oxidative stress, inflammatory responses, and diverse degenerative diseases. Berry anthocyanins also improve neuronal and cognitive brain functions and visual health.


I was just curious to see if you knew about the health benefits of wild berries like wild huckleberries, wild lingonberries, and wild cranberries. I have heard that wild huckleberries and lingonberries have ORAC values off the charts compared to that of domestic farmed berries.
   I am not sure at this time.


Berries for the brain

Extracts from blueberries and strawberries could protect against the oxidative stress behind aging, and could even protect astronauts from dangerous galactic radiation, suggests a new study partly supported by NASA. Scientists from Tufts University and the University of Maryland, exposed rats to radiation in order to induce behavioural and neuronal effects that mirror those observed during the natural process of ageing. Previous research has shown that exposure to a radioactive iron source results in a decline of a range of cognitive functions, including motor performance, spatial learning and memory. The new study reports that rats fed a diet supplemented with either strawberry or blueberry extracts for eight weeks before exposure to the radiation were protected from some of the reductions in brain function. And interestingly, the high-energy and charge particles found in the radiation are also found outside the Earth's magnetic field, suggesting, say the researchers, that astronauts on a manned-mission to Mars may also benefit from daily berry supplements. Both berries appear to be helpful. The antioxidant diets and the different polyphenols in these berries act in different brain regions to produce their beneficial effects. This suggests that one should consume a variety of berries as opposed to just one or two.


The benefits of antioxidant fruits and berries such as blueberries has been known for some time. Just recently we heard that blueberries have been found to be beneficial in regenerating brain cells, and may help fight Alzheimer's disease. Would you suggest taking blueberry extract for someone who has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's?
   All berries have great antioxidant benefits. Perhaps blueberry supplements may be helpful in lowering the risk for Alzheimer's disease and perhaps slowing the cognitive decline. There are many plant extracts and supplements that could be beneficial for Alzheimer's disease and it is difficult to know how many to take and what dosage is appropriate.


Anthocyanins may be of benefit in Parkinson's disease.


Bone loss, osteoporosis benefit
Antioxidants (Basel). 2014. Dietary Polyphenols, Berries, and Age-Related Bone Loss: A Review Based on Human, Animal, and Cell Studies. Natural antioxidant supplementation has been researched to aid in reducing bone loss caused by oxidative stress. Naturally occurring polyphenols, such as anthocyanins rich in berries, are known to have anti-oxidative properties. Several studies have been reviewed to determine the impact polyphenol intake-particularly that of berries-has on bone health. Studies reveal a positive association of high berry intake and higher bone mass, implicating berries as possible inexpensive alternatives in reducing the risk of age related bone loss.


Cancer prevention
Multiple Berry Types Prevent N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine-Induced Esophageal Cancer in Rats.
Pharm Res. 2010. Department of Internal Medicine and Comprehensive Cancer Center, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA.
Rats were treated with the carcinogen N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine for 5 weeks, then placed on diets containing 5% of either black or red raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, noni, açaí or wolfberry until the end of the study. The effects of the berries on tumor incidence, multiplicity and size were determined, as well as their effects on the levels of selected inflammatory cytokines in serum. All berry types were about equally effective in inhibiting NMBA-induced tumorigenesis in the rat esophagus. They also reduced the levels of the serum cytokines, interleukin 5 (IL-5) and GRO/KC, the rat homologue for human interleukin-8 (IL-8), and this was associated with increased serum antioxidant capacity. Seven berry types were about equally capable of inhibiting tumor progression in the rat esophagus in spite of known differences in levels of anthocyanins and ellagitannins.


Black raspberries added to the diet of animals inhibits the development of chemically induced cancer of the mouth, esophagus and colon and perhaps barretts esophagus.


Protection against esophageal cancer in rodents with lyophilized berries: potential mechanisms.
Nutr Cancer. 2006. Division of Hematology and Oncology, Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, Columbus
Our laboratory has been evaluating the ability of lyophilized (freeze-dried) berries such as black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis, BRBs), blackberries (R. fructicosus, BBs), and strawberries (Fragaria ananasia, STRWs) to inhibit carcinogen-induced cancer in the rodent esophagus. To assure "standardized" preparations of berries for study, each berry type is of the same cultivar, picked at about the same degree of ripeness, washed and frozen within 2-4 h of the time of picking, and freeze-dried under conditions that preserve the components in the berries.  In initial bioassays, freeze-dried STRW, BRB, and BB powders were mixed into AIN-76A synthetic diet at concentrations of 5% and 10% and fed to Fischer 344 rats before, during, and after treatment with the esophageal carcinogen N-nitrosomethylbenzylamine. At 25 wk of the bioassay, all three berries were found to inhibit the number of esophageal tumors (papillomas) in NMBA-treated animals by 24-56% relative to NMBA controls. This inhibition correlated with reductions in the formation of the NMBA-induced O6-methylguanine adduct in esophageal DNA, suggesting that the berries influenced the metabolism of NMBA leading to reduced DNA damage. Studies are ongoing to determine the mechanisms by which berries influence NMBA metabolism and DNA adduct formation. Berries, therefore, inhibit tumor promotion and progression events as well as tumor initiation.


Researchers gave 36 people with early signs of throat cancer a set amount of freeze-dried strawberries. Biopsies done before and after show 29 of the 36 had a decrease in precancerous lesions. Freeze drying the berries concentrates the cancer fighting chemicals.


Int J Mol Sci. 2015. Antiproliferative and antioxidant properties of anthocyanin rich extracts from blueberry and blackcurrant juice. The present study was aimed at evaluating the antiproliferative potential of anthocyanin-rich fractions (ARFs) obtained from two commercially available juices (blueberry and blackcurrant juices) on three tumor cell lines; B16F10 (murine melanoma), A2780 (ovarian cancer) and HeLa (cervical cancer). The results obtained indicated that both blueberry and blackcurrants are rich sources of antioxidants including anthocyanins and therefore these fruits are highly recommended for daily consumption to prevent numerous degenerative diseases.


Dementia, cognitive decline
Recent advances in berry supplementation and age-related cognitive decline.
Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009; Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Berry fruit supplementation has continued to demonstrate efficacy in reversing age-related cognitive decline in animal studies. In terms of the mechanisms behind the effects of berries on the central nervous system, recent studies have demonstrated the bioavailability of berry polyphenols in several animal models. These studies have revealed that flavonoids and polyphenols from berries do accumulate in the brain following long-term consumption. Antioxidant-rich berries consumed in the diet can positively impact learning and memory in the aged animal. This effect on cognition is thought to be due to the direct interaction of berry polyphenols with aging neurons and increasing the capacity of neurons to maintain proper functioning during aging.


Berries for Helicobacter Pylori

Inhibition of Helicobacter pylori in vitro by various berry extracts, with enhanced susceptibility to clarithromycin.
Mol Cell Biochem. 2004.
All extracts from berries significantly inhibited H. pylori compared with controls.


A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition investigated the effect of strawberries on postprandial inflammatory and insulin responses in adults. The study included 24 overweight adults who consumed a high carbohydrate, moderate fat meal followed by either a strawberry or placebo beverage. The results revealed that those who consumed the strawberry beverage showed 25 percent lower levels of biomarkers for inflammation compared with people receiving the placebo drink. It was also found that C-reactive peptide levels were 13 percent lower following consumption of the strawberry beverage than following consumption of the placebo beverage. Since chronic inflammation has also been linked to a range of conditions such as heart disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, type-2 diabetes, and arthritis, it appears that strawberries may decrease levels of inflammatory markers and thereby reduce the risk of these conditions.. Strawberry anthocyanin and its association with postprandial inflammation and insulin. Br J Nutr. 2011.


Weight loss
I have seen your berry diet all over the internet, and I am leery to try it because of just that – it is on the internet. I do not know anyone personal in my life that has taken it. I desperately need to lose weight, and have struggled with keeping up with routines and eating healthy. I really want to try the berry diet, but I am so afraid of it making me sick. I have not been able to find any information about side effects anywhere. If it is out there, I am just not looking in the right places. Caffeine makes me very sick, so all of the products out there that boost your metabolism have caffeine in them, so I cannot take them. Can you please help to answer my concerns? What can I expect for side effects from taking this remedy? I hope that this email reaches someone that can get a response to me. I have sent emails out and have never gotten replies… Not from your email address, but from other products, so I guess they were just a gimic.
   We do not have a berry diet program. Please see weight loss for more info.


Interactions with medications
Food Chem Toxicol. 2014. Evaluation of the in vitro/in vivo potential of five berries (bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, elderberry, and raspberry ketones) commonly used as herbal supplements to inhibit uridine diphospho-glucuronosyltransferase. In this study, we evaluated inhibitory potentials of popularly-consumed berries (bilberry, blueberry, cranberry, elderberry, and raspberry ketones) as herbal supplements on UGT1A1, UGT1A4, UGT1A6, UGT1A9, and UGT2B7 in vitro. We also investigated the potential herb-drug interaction via UGT1A1 inhibition by blueberry in vivo. We demonstrated that these berries had only weak inhibitory effects on the five UGTs. Bilberry and elderberry had no apparent inhibitions. Blueberry weakly inhibited UGT1A1 with an IC50 value of 62.4±4.40 μg/mL and a Ki value of 53 μg/mL. Blueberry also weakly inhibited UGT2B7 with an IC50 value of 147±11.1 μg/mL. In addition, cranberry weakly inhibited UGT1A9 activity (IC50=458±49.7 μg/mL) and raspberry ketones weakly inhibited UGT2B7 activity (IC50=248±28.2 μg/mL). Among tested berries, blueberry showed the lowest IC50 value in the inhibition of UGT1A1 in vitro. However, the co-administration of blueberry had no effect on the pharmacokinetics of irinotecan and its active metabolite, SN-38, which was mainly eliminated via UGT1A1, in vivo. Our data suggests that these five berries are unlikely to cause clinically significant herb-drug interactions mediated via inhibition of UGT enzymes involved in drug metabolism.


North American berries commonly consumed by Americans
Common berries include blackberry ( Rubus spp.), black raspberry ( Rubus occidentalis), blueberry ( Vaccinium corymbosum), cranberry (i.e., the American cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, distinct from the European cranberry, V. oxycoccus), pomegranate ( Punica granatum), red raspberry ( Rubus idaeus) and strawberry ( Fragaria x ananassa).


North American berries consumed by tribal communities

These include chokecherry Prunus virginiana, highbush cranberry Viburnum trilobum, serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia, and silver buffaloberry Shepherdia argentea.


Berries popular in other parts of the world
Acai berry ( Euterpe oleraceae) from Brazil, arctic bramble ( Rubus articus), bilberries ( Vaccinuim myrtillus; also known as bog whortleberries), black currant ( Ribes nigrum), boysenberries ( Rubus spp.), cloudberries ( Rubus chamaemorus), crowberries ( Empetrum nigrum, E. hermaphroditum), Elderberry ( Sambucus spp.), Goji  berries ( Lycium barbarum; also known as wolfberry), gooseberry ( Ribes uva-crispa), lingonberries ( Vaccinium vitis-idaea), loganberry ( Rubus loganobaccus), maqui berry ( Aristotelia chilensis) from Chile, marionberries ( Rubus spp.), Rowan berries ( Sorbus spp.), and sea buckthorn ( Hippophae rhamnoides), are also popularly consumed in other parts of the world.


Chemical Composition
Some of the known substances include vitamins A, C, and E and folic acid; calcium and selenium; beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, and lutein; polyphenols such as ellagic acid, ferulic acid, p-coumaric acid, quercetin, and several anthocyanins; and phytosterols such as beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and kaempferol.


Strawberries have several anthocyanins
The phenolics in strawberries include cyanidin-3-glucoside, pelargonidin, pelargonidin-3-glucoside, pelargonidin-3-rutinoside, kaempferol, quercetin, 3,4,5-trihydroxyphenyl-acrylic acid, glucose ester of ( E)- p-coumaric acid, and ellagic acid.


Bioavailability of quercetin from berries and the diet.
Nutr Cancer. 2006. Department of Health and Functional Capacity, National Public Health Institute, Helsinki, Finland.
Berries are a rich source of various polyphenols, including the flavonoid quercetin. In this article, the results of three intervention studies investigating the bioavailability of quercetin from berries are reviewed. In the first study, we investigated the short-term kinetics of quercetin after consumption of black currant juice and showed that quercetin is rapidly absorbed from it. In the second study, we showed that plasma quercetin levels increase up to 50% in subjects consuming 100 g/day of bilberries, black currants, and lingonberries as a part of their normal diets for 2 mo. In the third study, healthy subjects consumed a diet high or low in vegetables, berries, and other fruit for 6 wk. Quercetin concentrations nearly doubled in the high-vegetable, -berry, and -other fruit group and decreased by 30% in subjects consuming less of these foods than normally. The results showed that plasma quercetin is bioavailable from a diet containing berries and indicate that it may be a good biomarker of fruit and vegetable intake in general.


Phytochemicals in berries

Much of the antioxidant power of fruits and vegetables comes not from the classic antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C, but from natural protective compounds called phytochemicals. These include a number of categories such as anthocyanins, ellagic acid, pterostilbene, and countless others. Anthocyanins are a group of phytochemicals that give many berries their red color. In laboratory studies, anthocyanins inhibit growth of lung, colon and leukemia cancer cells without affecting growth of healthy cells. Decreased cancer development is also seen in animals given anthocyanins. Ellagic acid is another important phytochemical in virtually all berries. More than a simple antioxidant, ellagic acid also blocks metabolic pathways that can lead to cancer. In animals, it has inhibited development of colon, esophageal, liver, lung and skin cancers stemming from a variety of carcinogens. Pterostilbene is yet another powerful antioxidant phytochemical that seems to affect metabolic processes to decrease development of both cancer and heart disease. Blueberries are an excellent source of this relative of the health-promoting resveratrol that is found in grapes and red wine. Phytochemicals seem to be a vital part of the benefits we get from berries. One study showed that strawberries’ power to inhibit cancer cell growth was unrelated to their antioxidant content, suggesting that the direct influences of the phytochemicals on cancer development are very important. Concentrations of phytochemicals normally found in the blood after eating berries are enough to substantially decrease cancer cells’ growth and to stimulate their self-destruction, but more study is needed. Overall, research on phytochemicals shows that looking at the effects of single foods does not show the full picture. Studies show that a wide range of phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans act together in ways far greater than would be expected from looking at them individually. That’s why, as fabulously healthy as berries are, the bottom line has to be abundance and variety of many fruits and vegetables.


Additional articles that provide more information
Açaí Euterpe oleracea information can be found at acai berry extract web site.
Blackberry Rubus ursinus
Black raspberry Rubus occidentalis
Blackcurrant Ribes nigrum
Blueberry Vaccinium spp.
Cranberry Vaccinium spp.
Goji Lycium barbarum
Grape Vitis spp.
Natal plum
Red raspberry Rubus idaeus
Sea buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides
Strawberry Fragaria spp.