New research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that blueberries may lower cholesterol as effectively as a commercial drug and have the potential for fewer adverse side effects.
In the study, Rimando reports that a compound called pterostilbene (terro-STILL-bien) possesses similar cancer chemopreventive qualities to those found in resveratrol, another compound in grapes. Pterostilbene also showed strong inhibitory activity against breast cancer cell lines. But the evidence remains preliminary and the compound has yet to be evaluated in humans, according to Rimando.
In previous research, resveratrol has been credited with helping grape plants fight off fungi and has been linked to low incidences of coronary heart disease among wine- drinking populations.
Unlike resveratrol, however, pterostilbene is already known to posses anti-diabetic properties. It was first isolated from red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus). Together with resveratrol, it has also been identified in Vitis vinifera (wine grape) leaves, in Chardonnay and Gamay berries infected with fungus, and in healthy Pinot Noir and Gamay berries.
The study, prompted by pterostilbene's close structural similarity to resveratrol, was conducted with the use of a mouse mammary gland culture model that was exposed to a chemical carcinogen. The carcinogen caused precancerous cells on which the compound was tested. The mouse mammary gland test was performed by Rimando’s collaborators at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The compound, pterostilbene, has the potential to be developed into a nutraceutical for lowering cholesterol, particularly for those who don't respond well to conventional drugs used for this purpose, the researcher says. Findings were described today at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
"We are excited to learn that blueberries, which are already known to be rich in healthy compounds, may also be a potent weapon in the battle against obesity and heart disease, which are leading killers in the U.S.," says study leader Agnes M. Rimando, Ph.D., a research chemist with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). She works at the ARS' Natural Products Utilization Research Unit in Oxford, Miss.
Researchers have suspected for some time, based on anecdotal studies, that blueberries may play a role in lowering cholesterol, says Rimando.