You might have heard statements like “blueberries are one of the greatest health foods of all time”. But you also might have heard many outright lies about them like “blueberries are number one on the list of the top 40 antioxidant fruits and vegetables in the world”. That’s completely false; pomegranates and raspberries both rank higher.
With this article I planned to do a big elaborate explanation of all the supposed superpowers blueberries have for acne. But they don’t actually have that many powers for acne. Blueberries can lower LDL cholesterol and protect your eye cells, but they don’t contain many acne vitamins and acne minerals. Their best micronutrient for acne is vitamin C, with a measly 16% of the recommended daily allowance.
A claim that circulates widely is that blueberries are rich in vitamin E, but they contain only 3% of the RDA. They don’t have extra powers like the watermelon and its ability to heal old acne. They definitely can’t match foods rich in vitamin A, the ultimate nutrient for clogged pores and oily skin.
Blueberries only have two useful powers for acne patients, but the two that they do have are superb and very strong. Blueberries can lower chronic inflammation and reduce oxidative stress by providing tons of acne antioxidants.
Blueberries can lower acne inflammation
Chronic inflammation is not exactly what it sounds like. It’s a state where a chronically overactive immune system launches far too powerful inflammatory assaults all over the body. This disease is plaguing millions today and is causing heart disease, muscle pain, and arthritis everywhere.
It’s also the single most important disease behind acne. Overly powerful inflammatory responses against p.acnes bacteria in your pores reddens and swells the surrounding tissues, turning it into acne.
Lowering chronic inflammation, not destroying p.acnes with benzoyl peroxide, should be your goal. Blueberries lower inflammation well according to these studies:
- This study tested the effect of wild blueberries, AKA bilberries, on rats fed a high fat diet. They were fed blueberries as either 5% or 10% of their diet. The scientists measured their levels of inflammatory cells and inflammatory immune system cytokines after 13 weeks. There was a big reduction in pro-inflammatory responses, and levels of inflammatory chemicals such as T helper type 1 cells. Their conclusion was: “Bilberries reduce the development of systemic inflammation and prevent the progression of chronic hypertension”.
- Next we have this study on humans, where scientists tested normal blueberries on inflammation levels after extended running. 25 well trained athletes were given 250 grams of blueberries per day for six weeks, and 375 grams of blueberries one hour before a 2.5 hour running session. Blood, urine and muscle samples were collected and levels of inflammatory cytokines were analysed. Compared to the control group, the athletes fed blueberries enjoyed much higher levels of the anti-inflammatory chemical interleukin-10. The blueberry group also displayed higher levels of natural killer (NK) cells which, despite their sinister sounding name, actually reduce inflammation in the body. The scientists concluded that “this study indicates that daily blueberry consumption for 6 weeks increases NK cell counts, and acute ingestion… increases anti-inflammatory cytokines”.
- This study tested a topical blueberry extract on inflamed rat paws. Three concentrations were tested, at 100mg, 200mg, and 300mg. At those concentrations, the blueberry extract reduced swelling of the rat paws by 9.8, 28.5 and 65.9%, respectively. Blueberry was also tested on histamine levels in the paws, an immune system actor responsible for the side effects of food allergies (swelling, rashes, acne, etc). Again, levels fell by 70.1, 71.7 and 81.9%, respectively. Blueberry was then tested against methylperoxidase, and after 6 and 24 hours, 300mg of blueberry extract lowered levels by 42.6 and 42.8%. What is methylperoxidase? It’s one of the most commonly used biomarkers for inflammation. The scientists reached a very promising conclusion: “Considering that the crude extract of blueberry displayed… anti-inflammatory activity, its consumption may be helpful for the treatment of inflammatory disorders”.
- Rather than blueberries themselves, this study analysed the powers of two anthocyanin antioxidants found in blueberries: malvidin-3-glucoside and malvidins-3-galactoside. The purpose of the study was to “investigate the inhibitory effect of blueberry’s two main anthocyanins on inflammatory response in endothelial cells”. They were both found to inhibit several pro-inflammatory and hence pro-acne chemicals including tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a) and NF-KappaB. Malvidin-3-glucoside was the more anti-inflammatory of the two, but both were effective. Another very promising conclusion was reached: “These results indicate that blueberry is good resource of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, which can be promising molecules… to prevent chronic inflammation in many diseases”.
The evidence that blueberries slash inflammation is strong, both by inhibiting pro-inflammatory chemicals behind acne and increasing anti-inflammatory chemicals which soothe the damageand prevent acne.
Blueberries also contain an interesting chemical called pterostilbene, which is currently being investigated and shows tentative but powerful properties against acne. In this article, we discussed how resveratrol is potent at inhibiting a vast swathe of inflammation. Specifically, resveratrol inhibits NF-KappaB, a master molecule that stimulates many pro-inflammatory chemicals which cause acne.
The pterostilbene in blueberries is a chemical analog of resveratrol; it is structurally very similar. Hence, pterostilbene has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties; in this study it inhibited the immune chemical TNF-a. In this study pterostilbene inhibited both COX-2 and was concluded to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
Furthermore, pterostilbene is similarly powerful but is far better absorbed than resveratrol. Pterostilbene has an absorption rate of 80% in the gut, compared to 20% for resveratrol (study). Its half-life is seven times longer, 105 minutes against 14 minutes, so it exerts its healthy effects for much longer.
Pterostilbene is also believed to inhibit the gene responsible for inflammation in the gut, the type of inflammation that causes colon cancer. That should help acne too because gut inflammation causes food allergies and leaky gut syndrome.
Pterostilbene is still being furiously investigated, somewhat unsurprisingly, since the resveratrol supplement industry is now booming. A supplement form has been patented and the market might explode over the next few years, but for us that’s totally irrelevant because you can easily get this compound from either blueberries or grapes.
Blueberries tackle oxidative stress
Oxidative stress and its role in acne is very simple. It’s when there are more free radicals in your bloodstream than your antioxidants can tackle, and hence your antioxidants get massively depleted. Some antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin A are vital for preventing acne, by providing inbuilt defences to sebum which prevent it from mutating into a highly comedogenic form called squalene peroxide.
Basically, high oxidative stress is a number one cause of acne, ranked alongside chronic inflammation. Eating blueberries has again been shown to tackle the problem:
- First we have this study where scientists tested the effect of a blueberry-enriched diet on animals with oxidative stress and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc). For 15 weeks, five week old obese male rats were fed either a control diet or one with added blueberries. The rats fed the blueberry diet enjoyed substantially lower oxidative stress by the end of the study, and the other group displayed a big deterioration of antioxidant levels.
- This study tested the effect of a blueberry extract on the susceptibility of human skeletal muscle to oxidative stress. The blueberry extract displayed “a potent and significant dose-dependent protective capacity” against oxidative stress. The two most powerful compounds were malvidin-3-glucoside and malvidin-3-galactoside, which were also shown to lower inflammation in the study above. They appear to be two of blueberries standout natural compounds. The scientists concluded that blueberry fruits may be useful in protecting against muscle damage caused by oxidative stress.
- This interesting study examined the effect of blueberry and sea buckthorn supplementation on children with type 1 diabetes. Blueberries increased antioxidant levels, but interestingly, they specifically increased superoxide dismutase. SOD is not found in any food; rather it’s an antioxidant that the human body manufactures itself. So it’s possible that as well as containing many of its own antioxidants, blueberries provide compounds which stimulate your own antioxidant production.
- 344 young male rats were fed a blueberry enriched (2% blueberries) diet for 8 weeks or a control diet with no blueberries (study). The rats were first treated with kainic acid and phosphate buffered saline (PBS), both of which are substances which scientists use to deliberately increase free radicals so they can then test treatments for oxidative stress. The blueberry diet effectively protected against cognitive damage caused by oxidative stress; rats fed blueberries had less neuron loss and cognitive impairment.
- This study analysed the effect of adding blueberries to a meal. The results were excellent: blueberries were found to increase total antioxidant capacity of the blood substantially following a meal.
- A similar study found that the antioxidants in blueberries were vey bioavailable. Blueberries increased total plasma antioxidant levels, and two specific antioxidants, caffeic acid and ferulic acid, were found to have increased. Interestingly, the scientists also found that consuming milk with blueberries blunted this increase, which would make sense if it was pasteurised (and thus nutritionally dead) milk. This effect doesn’t occur with all foods; the study above found improved antioxidant levels when blueberries were eaten with a meal.
Blueberries reduce oxidative stress superbly and they achieve this because they contain tons of antioxidants. They’re not the best fruit for antioxidants ever, but they’re one of the best. 100 grams receives an ORAC score of 4669 and wild blueberries (bilberries) are even higher at 9100.
There’s a reason why blueberries taste so great; it’s antioxidants that provide all the rich flavour of fruits. If it’s got a really fascinating and distinctive flavour then you’ve got a sure-fire sign it’s got some really distinctive antioxidants fr acne too. The blueberry certainly does.
Blueberries contain hydroxycinnamic acids like caffeic, ferulic, and coumaric acid, anthocyanins like malvidins, delphinidins, pelargonodins, peonidins and cyanadins, and flavanols such as kaempferol, quercetin, and myricetin. Many of these have unique powers for acne; quercetin is especially potent at lowering gut inflammation and hence the risk of acne from food allergies.
Myricetin is believed to help acne by increasing the uptake of glucose into energy stores, thus lowering your blood sugar levels. In fact, myricetin has been used therapeutically for type 2 diabetes in Northern Brazil for years now. The small quantity of vitamin C provides an extra bonus as it’s the number one water-soluble antioxidant in the human body.
The verdict on blueberries for acne
Blueberries help acne in only a couple of major ways, but those powers are seriously strong.
That’s little more to be said. Eating blueberries tackles the two most common diseases behind acne.
Adding them to your diet is a smart move, alongside other acne-clearing fruits and vegetables. If you’re a blueberry fan then go nuts.
Blueberries may have one other hidden power for acne: a potential ability to regulate estrogen levels. The jelly portion in the centre of blueberries and blackberries is high in calcium d-glucarate, a plant compound that can lower estrogen levels in humans.
Calcium d-glucarate is found in oranges and that’s why oranges can also lower estrogen levels. Lower estrogen can treat oily skin if you’re a woman with estrogen dominance, and favourable metabolization of estrogen by the liver can reduce inflammation in everybody.
Whether blueberries have these powers is unproven, but this study found that a 5% blueberry diet could inhibit estrogen stimulated breast cancer cells. This study found that blueberries protected cells against the harmful effects of excess estrogen but left the beneficial effects of estrogen intact.
Important notes on the quality of your blueberries
Firstly, I strongly recommend that you buy organic blueberries when focussing on acne. Conventional blueberries are among the worst foods for pesticide and herbicide contamination; each year on the “dirty dozen” list of the most heavily sprayed plant foods, blueberries nearly always make an appearance.
Whatsonmyfood.com states that conventional blueberries can contain a staggering 52 agrochemicals, as reported by the USDA Pesticide Data Program. Compare that to the generally safe for acne conventional sweet potato, where only 9 agrochemicals have been detected. Pesticides regularly sprayed on blueberries include…
- 8 known or probably carcinogens.
- 22 suspected hormone disruptors.
- 14 neurotoxins.
- 7 developmental or reproductive toxins.
Basically, your cheap but miraculous superfood from the local supermarket is pumped full of estrogen mimicking and fertility destroying hormones. If that sounds horrific, then the good news is that organic blueberries contain none of them. Generally, pesticides and such chemicals cause acne by depleting the important antioxidant glutathione, which also acts as a detoxifying agent. Many pesticides also generate free radicals directly and add to acne inflammation even at low levels.
Furthermore, organic blueberries are noticeably higher in acne-clearing antioxidants. This study compared the antioxidant content of two batches of New Jersey blueberries, grown in either organic fields or conventional fields. The organic blueberries contained significantly more total phenolics, total anthocyanins, and antioxidant activity (as measured by ORAC) than blueberries from the conventional fields.
Many specific antioxidants were measured. Organic blueberries contained more: myricetin 3-arabinoside, quercetin 3-glucoside, delphinidin 3-galactoside, delphinidin 3-glucoside, delphinidin 3-arabinoside, petunidin 3-galactoside, petunidin 3-glucoside, and malvidin 3-arabinoside. Basically more of every healthy substance. The antioxidants were 50% higher overall. Another study found similar results; anthocyanins, phenols and total antioxidants were higher, as were individual antioxidants like quercetin.
So it’s clear that if you’re a clear skin fanatic, or a health fanatic, organic blueberries are the only way to go for acne.
The best option ever for acne is organic wild blueberries, known as bilberries, as their ORAC score of 9100 beats that of cultivated blueberries (4669) easily. You can see their picture above.
Also, there’s a common misconception that freezing blueberries depletes the acne nutrients, but that’s not the case. A study found that after freezing blueberries for several months, there was no detectable depletion in anthocyanin contents once they were defrosted.
So if you happen to stumble across a forest full of wild blueberries, you can pick as many as you can, freeze tons of them and build up a massive supply.
Conclusion – an excellent fruit for acne
Blueberries are an effective and tasty weapon for treating acne, via lowering inflammation and oxidative stress.
Don’t just stuff your face with blueberries; instead combine them with other fruits, herbs, vegetables and spices for a variety of acne curing power. Eat Brazil nuts for selenium, strawberries for their superior levels of vitamin C, eat garlic for its digestive benefits. Those are just a few possible examples.
Blueberries also show us how once again, the cures for acne are staring us in the face. You don’t need a course of acne antibiotics, you don’t need BP, and you certainly don’t need to risk mental problems with Accutane. There’s anti-inflammatory foods and natural acne supplements everywhere.
Few mainstream outlets in the acne-sphere are exposing them, but we are, so if you want further information about curing acne the natural way I’d advise you to read this article about simple dietary strategies for acne. It’s a great set of information to get you started.
Thanks for reading!