Anthocyanin-rich blueberry intake is associated with reduced type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk in prospective studies, although long-term randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have not been conducted in at-risk populations.
In the longest-duration RCT to date, we examined the effect of 6-mo blueberry intake on insulin resistance and cardiometabolic function in metabolic syndrome.
A double-blind, parallel RCT (n = 115; age 63 ± 7 y; 68% male; body mass index 31.2 ± 3.0 kg/m2) was conducted, which fed 2 dietarily achievable blueberry intakes [equivalent to 1/2 and 1 cup/d (75/150 g)] compared with matched placebo. Insulin resistance was assessed via the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (primary endpoint) and confirmed by [6-6-2H2]-glucose-labeled, 2-step hyperinsulinemic clamp (n = 20). Clinically relevant cardiometabolic endpoints [including flow-mediated dilatation, augmentation index, lipoprotein status (by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy), and nitric oxide (NO)-related metabolite assay] and anthocyanin metabolism were assessed.
A daily intake of 1 cup of blueberries improved endothelial function (flow-mediated dilatation: +1.45%; 95% CI: 0.83%, 2.1%; P = 0.003), systemic arterial stiffness (augmentation index: –2.24%; 95% CI: –3.97%, –0.61%; P = 0.04) and attenuated cyclic guanosine monophosphate concentrations. In statin nonusers (n = 71), elevated high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (+0.08 mmol/L; P = 0.03), high-density lipoprotein particle density (+0.48n, ×10–6; P = 0.002) and apolipoprotein A-I (+0.05 g/L; P = 0.01) concentrations were observed following the 1-cup/d intervention. Treatment compliance was 94.1% (wrapper returns) and total concentrations of anthocyanin-derived phenolic acid metabolites significantly increased, dose-dependently, in serum and 24-h urine (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001, respectively). Insulin resistance, pulse wave velocity, blood pressure, NO, and overall plasma thiol status were unaffected. Likewise, a half cup per day had no effect on any biomarkers.
Despite insulin resistance remaining unchanged we show, to our knowledge, the first sustained improvements in vascular function, lipid status, and underlying NO bioactivity following 1 cup blueberries/d. With effect sizes predictive of 12–15% reductions in CVD risk, blueberries should be included in dietary strategies to reduce individual and population CVD risk. This study was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT02035592.