July is National Blueberry Month, and while shoppers buying in-season blueberries or filling pails picked from sunny mountainsides likely know about this tiny berry's strong nutritional punch, few are aware of the ingredient in blueberries—pterostilbene—that makes them good for us. Nor do they realize they would have to consume 500 cartons of blueberries at once to ingest the amount of pterostilbene necessary to reap the health benefits of blueberries in protecting against conditions like heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline.
Benefits by the bushel
The good news is that pterostilbene is now available as an ingredient in dietary supplements that provides the health benefits of hundreds of cartons of blueberries in a single capsule. Pterostilbene belongs to a class of compounds called phytoalexins that are naturally produced by plants to protect them from attack by pathogens, such as bacteria or fungi.
Pterostilbene is a natural analog of resveratrol, the ingredient in grapes—and red wine—that captured the public’s attention for its role in the “French paradox,” a catchphrase coined in 1992 by a French doctor that describes the discrepant fact that the French can feast on a diet of cholesterol-rich foods such as butter, cream and cheese without suffering an unusually high incidence of heart disease or obesity. Subsequent studies attributed the French paradox to the protective effects of the resveratrol in red wine. Although the link with the French paradox stimulated scientific interest in resveratrol, some scientists maintain that, as with blueberries, extraordinary amounts would have to be consumed in order to achieve the cardioprotective benefits of the resveratrol in red wine.
The publicity surrounding resveratrol’s role in the French paradox has contributed to its popularity as a dietary supplement. But when it comes to the role of stilbenoids—the category of compounds to which both resveratrol and pterostilbene belong—in heart health, pterostilbene has it all over resveratrol because of its superior bioavailability and longer half-life.
The bioavailability of pterostilbene is 80 percent, compared to 20 percent for resveratrol. In other words, 60 percent more pterostilbene is available to the body. Pterostilbene also has a half life that is seven times longer than that of resveratrol, meaning that it persists longer in the body: 105 minutes for pterostilbene versus 14 minutes for resveratrol. In addition, the level of cellular uptake for pterostilbene is between two and four times greater than that of resveratrol. In summary, pterostilbene is significantly more bioavailable; it’s more effective because it gets to the places it needs to go in the body.
Pterostilbene for heart health
A prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy finalized in 2012, which was the first study to evaluate pterostilbene in humans, showed that:
- Pterostilbene helps maintain healthy blood pressure in subjects with blood pressure that is already within normal ranges. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, which are leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American adults—or 67 million people—suffer from high blood pressure.
- Pterostilbene has also been demonstrated to have a wide range of health benefits that are linked to its role as a powerful antioxidant, including in aging and cognitive function.
- But one of its most important roles may be in the control of diabetes, which is a national epidemic. According to the American Diabetes Association, 8.3 percent of the U.S. population suffers from the disease. Studies have demonstrated that pterostilbene may help support healthy blood sugar levels by encouraging the body’s natural production of insulin.
- Pterostilbene also helps support weight management. Overweight is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The same University of Mississippi study that found that pterostilbene reduces blood pressure also showed that the subjects taking pterostilbene achieved a reduction in weight by comparison with a control group.
Blueberries are a great addition to any meal—especially when they are in season as they now are. But those looking to take full advantage of pterostilbene’s many health benefits may want to turn to the more than two dozen supplements and vitamins containing this beneficial ingredient that are available on the market today.
Frank L. Jaksch Jr. is the co-founder and chief executive officer of ChromaDex, a natural products company that discovers, acquires, develops and commercializes proprietary-based ingredient technologies through its unique business model that utilizes its wholly owned synergistic business units, including ingredient technologies, natural product fine chemicals (known as "phytochemicals"), chemistry and analytical testing services and product regulatory and safety consulting (as Spherix Consulting). The company provides science-based solutions to the nutritional supplement, food and beverage, animal health, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. The ChromaDex ingredient technologies unit includes products backed with extensive scientific research and intellectual property.