Blueberries: antioxidant powerhouse?

The grandad of the superfood trend, this cute little North American fruit packs a powerful nutritional punch.

Blueberries are a good source of vitamin K. They also contain vitamin C, fibre, manganese and other antioxidants (notably anthocyanins).

Valued for its high levels of antioxidants, some nutritionists believe that if you make only one change to your diet, it should be to add blueberries.

Die-hards claim blueberries can help protect against heart disease and some cancers, as well as improve your memory.

We've teamed up with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) to examine the evidence to see if blueberries live up to their hype.

The evidence on blueberries

Heart health and blueberries

A study in 2012 of 93,000 women found that participants who ate three or more portions of blueberries and strawberries a week had a 32% lower risk of a heart attack compared with those who ate berries once a month or less. However, the study could not prove that these fruits definitely caused the lower risk.

Can blueberries combat high blood pressure and atherosclerosis?

While the evidence is inconclusive, it is thought that blueberries may relax the walls of the blood vessels, which may help reduce this risk of atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke.

A small study in 2015 involving 48 post-menopausal women, found that women who were given blueberry powder supplements over the course of eight weeks experienced a small, but clinically significant, drop in blood pressure.

A study from the same year involving 44 adults with metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), who were given blueberry smoothies, had less promising results as there was no effect on blood pressure.

A similar finding was presented in a 2013 study involving 21 men. Though these men were described as healthy so the results may not be applicable for people with underlying chronic diseases.

Though it is important to note that all of these studies were relatively small which gives less “weight” to their results. They also involved different populations so the results may not be applicable to the general population.

Can blueberries prevent cancer?

There is so far very little evidence that blueberries can help protect against cancer. In laboratory studies on cells and animals, blueberry extracts (such as anthocyanins) have been shown to decrease free radical damage that can cause cancer. However, it is not clear how well humans absorb these compounds from eating blueberries and whether or not they have a protective effect.

Does eating blueberries lead to a better memory?

A number of small studies have found a link between blueberry consumption and improved spatial learning and memory. However, most of these studies relied on small sample groups or animals. There is currently no evidence of a link between eating blueberries and improved memory.

The dietitian's verdict on blueberries

Alison Hornby, a dietitian and BDA spokesperson, says: "While research on the health claims of blueberries is inconclusive, they are a fantastic choice as one of your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. 

"They are low in calories and high in nutrients, including phenolic compounds with an antioxidant capacity significantly higher than vitamins C or E.   

"Try adding them to your breakfast cereal, including them in a packed lunch or mixing with low-fat yoghurt for a delicious dessert."

More on superfoods

Check out the evidence behind the health claims made about these other so-called superfoods:

Page last reviewed: 26/08/2015

Next review due: 26/08/2017


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 92 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

tucha7 said on 19 June 2015

Great and helpful blog. Thank you!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

cpwise said on 20 February 2015

Odd! Through the USDA and its official associated research branches have extensive and conclusive data to support the claims of most of the listed foods here. They have certainly conducted a myriad of huge tests involving thousands of human subjects and where the need applies over decades of time. This begs the question why are we therefore here seeing the summaries on most of these foods being so bland and indifferent? If the NHS thinks in so many of these foods 'there is no evidence to suggest' the findings of others, why on esrth haven't they conducted their own long term accurate trials instead of inferring that all others including tge USDA are wrong?

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Wobbler said on 01 October 2014

Thanks for that refereence. That is a much better summary on "superfoods" with well researched scientific background data and analysis despite you calling it a summary . It woud be good to see that article consumed into this one, which unfortunately still references dietary antioxidants of the foods despite the lack of scientific evidence for them having any verifiable health effect.

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Shukor said on 15 September 2014

Hi Wobbler,

You are completely right! Read our summary on the health claims of so-called 'Superfoods' here:

What are superfoods:

Steven, Live Well editor

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Wobbler said on 26 August 2014

As a follow up to my previous comments on the apparent positive support of dietary antioxidents, please also look at the following EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) statements backed up by academic and independent research:
Quote: Ref 1
"No human studies that investigated the effects of the consumption of the food(s)/food constituent(s) on reliable markers of oxidative damage to body cells or to molecules such as DNA, proteins and lipids have been provided in relation to any of the health claims evaluated in this opinion.

On the basis of the data presented, the Panel concludes that a cause and effect relationship has not been established between the consumption of the food(s)/food constituent(s) which are the subject of this opinion and the protection of DNA, proteins and lipids from oxidative damage."

Quote: Ref 2
"The antioxidant properties of foods (measured in vitro), and changes in the overall antioxidant
capacity of plasma (measured in vivo as, for example, TRAP, TEAC, FRAP, ORAC or FOX), do not
predict a role of the food/constituent in the protection of body cells and molecules such as DNA,
proteins and lipids from oxidative damage in vivo, and therefore are not suitable outcome measures
for the scientific substantiation of the claimed effect"


2 Guidance on the scientific requirements for health claims related to antioxidants, oxidative damage and cardiovascular health,d.d2k

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Wobbler said on 25 August 2014

Given that this is supposed to show proper scientifically based evidence, this page is extremely sloppy. Quoting a study to justify the so-called health benefits of blueberries which states "However, the study could not prove that these fruits definitely caused the lower risk." shows a lack of understanding of the scientific evidence presented.

In fact, it seems that despite the numerous claims made both by manufacturers and, unfortunately, here of the benefits of dietery antioxidents there is no evidence of a scientifically measurable positive effect and there may in fact be negative consequences. I'd suggest whoever wrote this starts by reading the New Scientiss 26 August 2013 article by Caroline Williams "Health myths: Antioxidant pills help you live longer".

A well researched article would also point out that, significantly, in America and Canada, their food agencies have banned any health promoting claims of antioxidants in food or food products or suppliments.the FDA on the grounds of no supporting properly devised scientifically based research showing these claims to be true.


Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

pregmary said on 17 July 2013

Bluberries!.My favourite!

Report this content as offensive or unsuitable

Superfoods: the evidence

We examine the evidence behind the health claims made about the most popular superfoods