Scientists at the University of Maine uncovered a new and surprising use for blueberries that goes way beyond smoothies and healthy breakfasts — healing chronic wounds, particularly ulcers from diabetes-related skin pressure.
When we hurt ourselves, our wounds heal through a process that allows blood vessels to grow into them. This growth process, called vascularization, supplies the injured tissue with nutrients and platelets carried in the blood. Lamentably, pressure ulcers that often form on the bodies of those with diabetes experience little vascularization, which means that the injuries take a really long time to heal. Sometimes they take so long that infections develop which could result in amputations and sometimes worse.
U Maine’s Dr. Dorothy Klimis-Zacas led a research team that built upon findings from a prior study (also carried out at U Maine) that found that blueberry-derived phenols (a kind of antioxidant) boosted vascularization and cell migration in human umbilical cord cells.
Making a blueberry salve
Informed by this earlier study, Klimis-Zacas and the team sought to use a topical gel containing a wild blueberry phenolic extract as a treatment for skin wounds in rats.
Compared to a control group of rats that received no blueberry treatment, the treated group showed a 12 percent increase in wound closure after six days of treatment. The treated rats also demonstrated better migration of endothelial cells (the cells that line the walls of blood vessels and regulate the exchange of compounds between the bloodstream and surrounding tissues) to the wound site.
“Wild blueberries have the potential to enhance cell migration, new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), and vascularization and to speed up wound closer,” said the first author of the study Tolu Esther Adekeye. “This is especially important in conditions that require enhanced wound closure in patients with chronic wounds such as diabetic wounds, burns, and pressure ulcers.”