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Blueberries, Probiotics Protect Against Colitis and Cancer


If you want to protect yourself against intestinal disease such as colitis and colorectal cancer, consider adding blueberries to your diet. You can supersize that protection if you add probiotics to the picture, according to researchers from the Lund University Faculty of Engineering in Sweden.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and other nutrients, and numerous studies have suggested that compounds found in this fruit may help combat cancer. In a review article from the University of California, Los Angeles, for example, the authors noted that there is overwhelming evidence suggesting that the polyphenols, lignans, stilbenoids, and other components in blueberries and similar berries can repair cell damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation.

In this latest study, scientists from Lund University set out to determine whether various types of dietary fiber and probiotics (e.g., lactobacillus and bifidobacteria) could help alleviate and prevent the risk of ulcerative colitis and colorectal cancer. They compared diets of blueberry husks, rye bran, and oat bran both with and without the addition of probiotic bacteria.

The authors found that adding probiotics protected the liver and reduced inflammation-inducing bacteria in the intestinal tract while the population of health-promoting bacteria (e.g., lactobacillus) increased. They also noted that when blueberries were consumed along with probiotics, the content of butyric acid and propionic acid increased in the blood. Previous research has shown that these two substances enhance the immune system and are important energy sources for intestinal cells.

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Another reason for the positive impact of blueberries, according to the authors, is that the blueberry fiber is not broken down a great deal in the large intestine. This means that substances that cause inflammation, and thus inflammatory bowel diseases such as colitis, do not make contact with the intestinal lining. Instead, they become embedded in the fiber and can then be transported out of the body in feces.

Ulcerative colitis is one of the two main types of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease being the other). These diseases cause chronic inflammation of the intestinal tract and are associated with a number of symptoms, including diarrhea, rectal bleeding, weight loss, abdominal cramps, and pain.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 1 million people have inflammatory bowel disease in the United States. It most often develops between the ages of 10 and 30, although a second smaller peak is seen between the ages of 50 and 60. People who have ulcerative colitis are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Ulcerative colitis can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes, although most people need medication as well. The results of this new study suggest that blueberries and probiotics may present a viable treatment option for those who suffer with this disease and offer protection against colorectal cancer.

American College of Gastroenterology
Lund University
Schneider JG et al. Journal of Surgical Research 2009 July 21
Seeram NP. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2008 Feb 13; 56(3): 630-35