Richard G. Petty, MD


One of the principles of integrated medicine is that anything that’s good for you should have more than one benefit. So omega-3 fatty acids may help with cardiovascular health, mood, memory, attention deficit disorder, as well as the health of skin and bones.

Another one is the blueberry. I’ve been sufficiently impressed by the data on the health benefits of blueberries to have been a regular grower and consumer for years. They contain a number of potentially healthful compounds including polyphenols and anthocyanins, which can help modulate and balance the free radical systems of the body. Remember what I said recently about the value of keeping some free radicals in the body? The last thing that we want to do is to be rid of all of them!

There is reasonably good evidence that regularly eating blueberries can support cardiovascular health and there have been suggestions that they may reduce the risk and aggression of cancers of the prostate and colon.

There is also some evidence in animals that some of the components of blueberries may reduce inflammation and the effects of strokes – interruptions to the blood flow in the brain.

As a consumer, I’ve been carefully watching the growing evidence indicating that blueberries – or some of their constituents may have effects on animal cognition, brain aging and the normal neuroprotective mechanisms in the hippocampal region of the brain.

We do not yet have proof that these same effects occur in humans, and there are always three questions when we look at nutritional data:

  1. Can we extrapolate from the animal to humans? Mice are not men
  2. Are the amounts of blueberries or blueberry extracts even close to what humans could consume without spending all day eating, or getting a terribly upset intestine? There have been countless reports of the benefits of supplements that had to be taken in the most enormous doses to do any good. I’ve mentioned before the problem of L-arginine, which is sold as a “Natural Viagra.” Except that you need to take around nine grams for it to do much good, and most supplements contain less than a tenth of that. Regular readers will also remember my report concerning an article on coffee and sex. It was said that coffee would raise a woman’s libido. And indeed it does, if she drinks at least ten large cups of coffee at once. And coffee is a marvelous diuretic.
  3. When extracts are used, are we sure that we are getting the correct ingredient of the fruit? Many beneficial fruits contain just the right combination of nutrients to help us, so each can be taken in a small dosage or concentration. As with so much in integrated medicine, combinations are key. Take out one extract of a fruit, and you may lose the clinical effect that you wanted.

All that being said, the evidence is becoming progressively more interesting, and there is enough suggestive evidence for me to keep packing away the blueberries.

And just to show that I leave no stone unturned when checking the literature on your behalf, I rejoiced to learn that supplementing the diet of Arctic char with various supplements – including blueberries – improved the quality of his, ahem, semen. I do not know how this information will help any of us yet. Neither do I really know why a fish would want to eat blueberries or any of the other supplements that they were tried on. Though I’m sure that people have often asked similar off the wall questions about some of my research….

Neural Stem Cells

Stem cell research presents us with one of the most difficult moral and ethical dilemmas. Most of us have our opinions about the whole matter. But there is now a very real possibility that the scientific piece may be resolved in a different way altogether.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed that in adult mammals, the regions of the brain below the ventricles – the fluid-filled spaces – of the brain, harbor neural stem cells. The evidence for their existence has been building over the last five years. But this latest report is of great interest. The scientists were able to show that a soluble carbohydrate-binding protein named galectin-1 promotes the proliferation of these neural stem cells in the adult brain. These neural stem cells are highly active in the forebrains of mice.

We have yet to discover their role in adult human brains. But it would seem a safe bet that they will if anything be more active in humans, since we are endowed with incredible neural plasticity that is way beyond anything seen in most other species. And we would therefore expect to see more potential for neurogenesis in the human brain. It is valuable to place this new finding in the context of experimental work indicating that some medicines may stimulate adult neurogenesis.

“I’ve found that the chief difficulty for most people was to realize that they had really heard new things: that is things that they had never heard before. They kept translating what they heard into their habitual language. They had ceased to hope and believe there might be anything new.”
–Peter Demianovich Ouspensky (Russian Philosopher, 1878-1947)

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