Many people enjoy eating berries and they are certainly good for you. Berries are low in calories, high in fiber and contain vitamins C and E, folic acid, calcium, selenium, alpha and beta carotene and lutein. Better yet, their phytochemicals contain valuable polyphenols and flavonoids including anthocyanins and ellagitannins.1
Anthocyanin is a natural pigment in fruits and vegetables that has been shown in studies to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and contain anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.2 It also has been found to aid in the treatment of certain types of cancer and diabetes.
Still, when it comes to eating fruit, Americans often choose apples, pears, bananas, melons, citrus fruits and grapes over anthocyanin-rich berries. When they do consume berries, they often limit themselves to blackberries, black raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, red raspberries and strawberries.3
In Scandinavia, it is a different story. There, people often enjoy lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.), an evergreen shrub also called cowberry, foxberry and mountain/rock cranberry.
Lingonberries offer the same health benefits as other anthocyanin-rich berries and more. For example, due to their reported antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, lingonberries traditionally have been used in the treatment of gonorrhea, dysuria, diarrhea and periodontitis.4 Research also found lingonberries may reduce cardiovascular disease risks.5
Lingonberries Improved Blood Pressure and Vascular Function
In a doctoral dissertation study presented at the University of Helsinki,6 lingonberry juice was found to have positive effects on blood pressure, vascular function and inflammatory markers in rats with high blood pressure. Lingonberry juice significantly lowered high blood pressure and prevented the “expression of genes associated with low- grade inflammation in the aorta,” Sci News reported.7
Lingonberry juice with a greater concentration of polyphenols also improved the function of blood vessels that were impaired and restored them to the level seen with healthy blood vessels. What were the actions that caused the apparent improvements? This is what study author Anne Kivimäki hypothesized:
“Underlying the effect is probably the reduction of low-grade inflammation as well as mechanisms related to the renin-angiotensin system, a central regulator of blood pressure, and the availability of nitric oxide, a local endothelial vasodilating factor.”8
“After lingonberry juice treatment, serum levels of both angiotensin II and alkaline phosphatase were lower than in the control groups. Possible anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic effects were present due to the reduced gene expression of cyclooxygenase 2 (COX2), monocyte chemoattractant protein 1, p-selectin and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1.
… The lingonberry treatment lowered gene expression of COX2 in the aorta, and increased COX2 protein expression in the kidney cortex macula densa, possibly indicating that inducible COX2 had been inhibited whereas the important constitutive COX2 was maintained by lingonberry treatment.
Molecular docking studies conducted with flavonoid structures indicated that kaempferol may exert inhibitory effects on COX2 … Furthermore, lingonberry possesses anti-inflammatory properties, which may well contribute to its ability to reduce blood pressure and improve vascular function.”
Lingonberries May Reduce Cardiovascular Risks
Anthocyanins have been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart disease thanks to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and lipid-lowering effects.10
Studies with humans have shown that polyphenol-rich food like berries reduce oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation, low density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation and high plasma glucose while helping to optimize total cholesterol.11 Still, the effects of anthocyanins on blood pressure have been less clear, and the lingonberry study, with positive results that appeared to surface quickly, is encouraging:12
“The established high blood pressure of spontaneously hypertensive rats became lowered during an eight-week treatment with lingonberry juice …
(T)he endothelium-dependent relaxation of mesenteric arteries was enhanced after eight weeks’ treatment. Positive effects of lingonberry juice on inflammatory markers were observed …
In summary, in an experimental model of hypertension, long- term treatment with lingonberry juice was able to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.”
The Lingonberry Study Could Help Millions
Many people develop high blood pressure and vasculitis as they age, and nutrition can be an important key to the management of these conditions. Millions could benefit from the improved blood pressure, vascular function and inflammatory markers seen in Kivimäki's research beyond those with high blood pressure.
Other conditions that may benefit from lingonberry consumption include diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome, functional disturbances in blood vessels related to low-grade inflammation13 and conditions caused by smoking.14
In addition to reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, anthocyanins such as those found in lingonberries have been reported to “reduce TNF-α induced upregulation of inflammatory mediators in human microvascular endothelial cells,” according to a study in Nutrition Reviews.15
TNF, or tumor necrosis factor, is a protein in the human body that causes inflammation and is suppressed in treating some autoimmune conditions and cancers.16
As Kivimäki mentioned earlier, the reduction of nitric oxide seen in her study likely exerts some of the anti-inflammatory effects, since nitric oxide can lead to increased vascular permeability, the formation of a strong oxidizing agent called peroxynitrite and inflammatory cytokines.17
Lingonberries Can Prevent Diet-Induced Obesity
Lingonberries have other impressive properties. It has been known for a while that they can prevent diet-induced obesity, but the reason for the weight effects has been unclear. In a 2016 study published in the journal Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, researchers sought to understand the effect of lingonberries on weight, inflammation and gut microbiota using mice fed high fat (HF) diets.18
“Our results show that supplementation with lingonberries to an HF diet prevents low-grade inflammation and is associated with significant changes of the microbiota composition. Notably, the anti-inflammatory properties of lingonberries seem to be independent of effects on body weight gain.”
After supplementation with lingonberries, the mice lost weight and the size of their livers diminished.19
“After 11 weeks, the mice receiving HF diet supplemented with Lingon1 weighed 39±3.9 g, which was significantly lower (p=0.0003) compared to the control group receiving HF diet without berries (46±2.2 g) … The average mass of the livers in group Lingon1 was significantly reduced compared to the control.”
Lingonberries Also Altered Gut Microbiota Positively
Gut micrbiota was altered by the lingonberries, report the researchers.20
“At genus level, 14 bacterial taxa differed significantly between the control and lingonberry groups … The increase of Bacteroidetes in the lingonberry groups was to a large extent caused by increased relative abundance of bacteria belonging to an unclassified genus in the S24-7 family.
The genus Parabacteriodes was also significantly increased in the Lingon1 and Lingon2 (13%) groups compared to the control group (3%). Furthermore, the genus Akkermansia, belonging to the Verrucomicrobia phylum, was significantly increased in both lingonberry groups compared to the control … and Akkermansia was also significantly higher in the Lingon2 group (20%) compared to the Lingon1 group (16%) …
The comparison of functional pathways … revealed an enrichment of genes belonging to pathways related to metabolism in the Lingon-groups, and an enrichment of genes involved in transport and motility in the control group …
In agreement with a previous study, we show that supplementation with lingonberries prevents HF diet– induced weight gain, increased liver weight, body fat accumulation and elevated plasma levels of glucose and cholesterol …
Both batches of lingonberries altered the gut microbiota composition and were effective in preventing HF- induced low-grade inflammation and endotoxemia, demonstrating that the effects of lingonberries on these parameters are independent of effects on body weight.”
More Lingonberry Benefits
Boosting Antioxidant Profile — Researchers have identified certain antioxidants in lingonberries that may benefit your health. Chief among them include proanthocyanidins (63% to 71%), as well as hydroxycinnamic acid, hydroxybenzoic acids, various flavonols and the before cited anthocyanins.21 One study reports that antioxidants in lingonberry extract may induce apoptosis of human leukemia HL-60 cells in a dose-dependent manner.22
Managing Inflammation — Studies indicate that lingonberries are rich in proanthocyanidins (PAC), compounds that may help fight inflammation. In particular, wild Alaskan lowbush cranberry (a type of lingonberry found in the U.S.) has been found to have twice the PAC content as commercial cranberry.23
Reducing Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) — Lingonberry is related to cranberry, which may give it the same UTI-fighting properties. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers noted that those who drank a combination of lingonberry and cranberry juice had reduced recurrences of urinary tract infections.24
However, note that more extensive trials will be needed to help establish the ability of lingonberry to solely fight UTI without the need for cranberry.25
Managing Weight, Blood Sugar and Insulin — As noted above, lingonberries can help weight control. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers surmised that lingonberry may help reduce weight gain as well as prevent adiposity, hepatic lipid accumulation, alleviated hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia, as evidenced by mice test subjects.26
Eliminating Bacteria — The tannins of lingonberry have antimicrobial properties. In one clinical experiment, the tannins helped fight bacterial strains related to oral health.27
Helping Reduce Risk of Cancer — Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry indicate that procyanidins found in lingonberry may help fight human cervical cancer and colon cancer cells.28
Lingonberries Are Remarkable, but One Warning
Once again, a compound found naturally in food is able to accomplish what harsh drugs are supposed to do — but with much less risk and expense. The many benefits of lingonberries are truly remarkable. However, as with many foods, processing can pose a risk to the natural benefits found in lingonberries. This is what researchers writing in Nutrition Reviews warn:29
“Post-harvest processing, such as pressing, pasteurization, and conventional and vacuum drying, can significantly affect the polyphenol (including anthocyanin) and vitamin content of berries, and therefore their bioactivities and effects on CVD risk factors.”
Similar to cranberries, lingonberries are very sour and are often sweetened and eaten as sauce or jam. To enjoy the health benefits of lingonberries without the health risks of added sugar, look for lingonberries without added sugar, such as frozen raw berries that can be added to smoothies or fruit salad.
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