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25 August 2004
Compound In Blueberries Helps With Cholesterol

A compound found in blueberries shows promise in preliminary laboratory studies for lowering cholesterol as effectively as commercial drugs with fewer side effects, says Agnes M. Rimando, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presenting findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The compound, pterostilbene, has the potential to be developed into a dietary supplement for lowering cholesterol, particularly for those who don't respond well to conventional drugs, said Rimando. "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."

Pterostilbene is an antioxidant that is similar to resveratrol, another antioxidant identified in grapes and red wine that is also believed to lower cholesterol. Other researchers have found pterostilbene in grapes, but this is the first time it has been found in blueberries, says Rimando. She and her associates earlier showed that this compound may help battle cancer. Pterostilbene has been reported previously by others to have anti-diabetic properties as well.

Pterostilbene was similar in action to ciprofibrate, a commercial drug that lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. But ciprofibrate, whose mechanism of action on cells is less specific, can have side effects such as muscle pain and nausea. Pterostilbene, which targets a specific receptor, is likely to have fewer side effects, Rimando says, adding that the compound did not show any signs of cell toxicity in preliminary studies.

Until studies are conducted in humans, no one knows how many blueberries a person needs to eat to have a positive effect at lowering cholesterol, Rimando cautions. Her study adds to a growing list of health benefits attributed to the antioxidant-rich fruit, including protection against aging, heart disease and cancer, as well as acting as a memory booster.

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