The Chemistry of Nature: Blueberries

It’s blueberry season in Minnesota, so I went blueberry picking with Carol from The Temple of Pie. It was nice to be out of the laboratory and back in nature, even if only for a few short hours. Other than dreaming about pie, I started thinking about the medicinal qualities of blueberries, and the wonderful phenolic compounds that make them so good for you.

Words like “polyphenol” get used all the time when people talk about natural products, but a lot of people don’t understand what they mean. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about polyphenols and why they’re awesome.

There are a lot of polyphenols in blueberries, but one notable chemical is called chlorogenic acid. Chlorogenic acid is part of a group of chemicals called hydroxycinnamic acids. Actually, in IUPAC, (the international chemical naming system), this compound is called:

(1S,3R,4R,5R)-3-{[(2Z)-3-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl) prop-2-enoyloxy} -1,4,5 -trihydroxycyclohexanecarboxylic acid

Doesn’t that sound horrifying? Yet it’s just a blueberry. (This is why you shouldn’t listen when someone says “if you can’t pronounce it, it must be toxic.”)

Anyway, our scary sounding molecule above is wonderful stuff. It’s an antioxidant, and studies show that it slows down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. This makes chlorogenic acid a candidate for treating Diabetes II. Additionally, the literature claims that chlorogenic acid has antiviral, antibacterial, anti-tumor, and antifungal properties.

Does this mean that blueberries will cure you of all your ills? Well, probably not. But their wonderful antioxidant goodness might just make you a little healthier.

So have a few blueberries in honor of the blueberry harvest. Now, where’s that pie?