By Pina LoGiudice ND, LAc and Peter Bongiorno ND, LAc Directors of Inner Source Health
The benefits of the berry are starting to seem endless. Blueberries have been shown to be helpful with protecting blood vessels in diabetics. Cranberries have been used for years to effectively treat urinary tract infections. And raspberries have eye-protective antioxidants called lutein. Eating berries in general may also help ward off certain types of cancers.
Berries are an amazing group of fruits. The berry came up with an amazing assortment of plant chemicals called polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants, to help neutralize the sun’s radiation to avoid damage to its tender flesh. A type of polyphenol called flavonoids give berries their dark coloring and confer health benefits on us when we eat them.
One of new berries on the block that science is seriously looking into is the lingonberry; it appears to have higher concentrations of plant polyphenols and may confer even greater health benefits. Well known in Scandinavia, the lingonberry’s Latin name is vaccinium vitis-idaea, and is also known as the cowberry. As a member of the vaccinium species, it is related to the cranberry, bilberry and blueberry. Today, scientists are showing its value in both human and animal studies that are proving to have positive results.
Lingonberry Animal Studies
Animal studies have shown how the lingonberry can lower inflammatory molecules, block oxidants from destroying tissue, and also help the body replace important antioxidants, like glutathione, which is a master antioxidant in our body. Lingonberry has also been shown to increase red blood cell and liver enzymes needed for antioxidant protection. We need antioxidants to protect vessels and nerve tissue, and also to help decrease the damage from inflammation. Proanthocyanidin extracts from lingonberries were also found to be effective against the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a wide variety of infections.
A 2011 Finnish study gave rats with high blood pressure lingonberry juice to drink for eight weeks. While the juice did not lower blood pressure, there was a striking benefit of protection for the inner linings of the animals’ blood vessels (called endothelial linings). The lingonberry helped the effect of a molecule called nitric oxide, which is needed to help the vessels relax. Most interestingly, this effect seemed to be stronger with the lingonberry over the cranberry and black currant. They found the lingonberry to have almost twice the phenols as the cranberry.
Lingonberry Human Study
Native Americans in North America have a history of using this berry to help those suffering with diabetes and cardiovascular illness. Modern research is starting to catch up with what the Native Americans already knew. A 2010 Canadian study with First Nation Cree subjects found that the lingonberry was able to reduce the effect of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs are the byproduct of sugars and heated protein molecules in the body that accumulate in patients with high blood sugar. These AGEs contribute to the damage in a diabetic’s vessels. This damage is a major contributor to kidney disease, eye disease and circulation problems that can lead to skin sores and amputation. Naturopathic treatments for diabetes include exercise, eating low glycemic index foods (low sugar content) that are cooked at low temperatures and are minimally processed, and blood-sugar-balancing herbs like gymnema and cinnamon. Now, it seems we can add lingonberry to this list.
Drink to Your Health
Although not well known in the United States, lingonberries are available in juice form in some health food stores. They can also be found in jams, and the berries can be bought frozen or in powdered form online. For our patients with diabetes, blood pressure challenges, and inflammatory concerns, we recommend taking a tablespoon or two of the frozen berries and adding them to one cup of non-sweetened almond milk with a three-quarter cup of ice; blend for a healthy flavonoid-rich treat!