Wild berries and health, Part 2: Inflammation

chokecherryIn the previous post, I discussed the action of certain compounds in wild berries that may offer protection against diabetes.  But if the discussion stopped there, several other important roles involving phytonutrients would go unnoticed.  Not only do extracts from wild berries exhibit aldose reductase inhibition (blocking the conversion of excess glucose to sorbitol), they also display anti-inflammatory effects (1).  This is no surprise, as diabetes and inflammation are related, especially in the condition of obesity-associated insulin resistance (2).

Here is the list of the 4 berries that were analyzed in the study:

  • serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
  • highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum)
  • chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)
  • silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea)

The researchers discovered that compounds in all 4 berries exhibited anti-inflammatory effects, specifically in reducing Interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β) and Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) expression.  IL-1β is a cytokine produced endogenously as a regulator of the body’s inflammatory response.  It has been a target for type 2 diabetes (3) because of its association with the death of beta cells, whose job it is to store and release insulin.  IL-1β, in addition to its role in diabetes, is implicated in other processes involving pain, inflammation, and autoimmune conditions.  Chokecherry and silver buffaloberry demonstrated the strongest effects in reducing IL-1β.

COX-2 is an enzyme involved in inflammation and is a target for NSAIDS like aspirin and ibuprofen.  Normally the enzyme is unexpressed, but in the inflammation process it is activated.  Chokecherry and silver buffaloberry, in addition to reducing IL-1β, also reduced the expression of COX-2.

Not all inflammation is bad, however, as short-term acute inflammation is necessary for defense against toxins, injury, and stress.  Instead, it is chronic inflammation that never gets extinguished.  In this state, the body continuously produces inflammatory mediators which alter normal physiological functions.  Diabetes and obesity are both associated with chronic inflammation, and reducing inflammation may protect against diabetes even in the obese (4).  For this, a dietary strategy may indeed help.

As seen in this research, wild berries, in particular chokecherry and silver buffaloberry, contain plant chemicals that reduce the expression of certain inflammatory compounds.  Although not specifically analyzed, it’s hard to imagine that wild edible berries exhibit the same unpleasant side effects that NSAIDS may create (increased chance of heart attack, stroke, liver damage, kidney damage, headaches, etc.).

Remember, in addition to the scientific evidence, we also have extensive traditional usage of berries amongst numerous groups of people.  It is only within the last few centuries that these foods have fallen out of favor, and, not surprisingly, the health of the general population has declined.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we will look at wild berries and fat metabolism, and put it all together.

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