Wild berries and health, Part 3: Fat metabolism

SilverBuffaloberryWe have been exploring the phytonutrient actions of wild berries relating to human health in this 3-part series.  If you are just joining us, here are links to the previous posts:

Wild berries and health, Part 1: Diabetes

Wild berries and health, Part 2: Inflammation

In this third and final post, I will be showcasing the role of certain berries in regards to lipid metabolism and energy expenditure.  Just in case you forgot which wild berries the researchers in this study analyzed, here is the list again (1):

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

The human body derives most of its energy from carbohydrates and fats (lipids).  Lipid metabolism refers to the synthesis of fats, as well as the way the body converts fats into energy.  It is critical that these processes run effectively, but in certain conditions this is not the case.  In metabolic syndrome, for instance, fat metabolism is impaired, resulting in increased levels of circulating free fatty acids and fat accumulation.  It is normal for lipids to reside in the blood (especially after a meal), but when they do not get shunted to their proper destination (liver, brain, etc.), problems can arise.

In this study, the researchers analyzed how the berries influenced fat metabolism by measuring fatty acid oxidation, or the way fats are converted to energy.  They also measured mitochondrial number to determine the effect of berry samples on the energy status of cells.  Mitochondria are the areas within cells responsible for energy production, and in abnormal conditions like metabolic syndrome, the number and function of mitochondria are impaired.

The researchers discovered that extracts from highbush cranberry, chokecherry, and silver buffaloberry displayed notable activity for enhancing lipid metabolism, while serviceberry and chokecherry increased mitochondrial number.  The findings led the authors to conclude that the ability of the berry samples to modulate lipid metabolism and energy expenditure is consistent with improvements in metabolic syndrome.

Quite the exciting discovery!  Metabolic syndrome encompasses a host of risk factors, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL, and belly fat.  According to the CDC, approximately 34% of adults 20 years and older meet criteria for metabolic syndrome, with the likelihood increasing with age (2).  When there are foods associated with improvements in metabolic syndrome, it may be prudent to seek them out and incorporate them into your current diet.

Sure enough, there are plenty of foods associated with improvements in metabolic syndrome.  Service berry, highbush cranberry, chokecherry, and silver buffaloberry all have the ability to improve the health of those who consume them.  Although this has been suggested by this particular study, keep in mind that the scientific method is only one way to seek answers.

Wild berries have been consumed for millenia by the indigenous peoples of North America.  The illnesses discussed in this series result from the abandonment of traditional dietary habits in exchange for the highly refined and domesticated foods of modernization.  It is no surprise that we do not see the rates of degenerative diseases in Natives who follow their traditional diets anywhere near as high as the rates experienced by modern, civilized humans.

It is important, now more than ever, to implement a strategy reacquainting yourself with the wild foods growing in your ecosystem.  Research the distribution of these four berries, along with other edibles, and begin the sustainable practice of gathering them for your consumption.  Consider them your allies in protecting yourself against the insidious diseases of affluence, and discover for yourself what it means to relay the inherent health of the Earth into your body.

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