Wounds can be big health problems — and big business. The global wound care business is a multi-billion market that continues to grow year after year. Some researchers even claim that every year, people around the world spent close to $100 billion on wound treatments. This is why a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Maine is so significant. The study reveals a new method of wound care using a wild blueberry extract that could promote healing while also being cheaper than existing alternatives.
Rats and blueberries
This new method has the potential to reduce the risks and complications associated with chronic wounds, as well significantly decrease the cost of wound care treatments for millions of people, the team says.
In their previous work, researchers have highlighted that cell migration and vascularization (growth of blood vessels that eventually improves oxygen levels in body cells and tissues) can be improved using the phenolic extract found in wild blueberries. Phenol is a natural antioxidant capable of repairing damaged cells, commonly found in red and purple-colored fruits like grapes, berries, and pomegranates. The current study gives a more in-depth understanding of the effect of the phenolic extract on live wounds.
The team of researchers led by Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Maine, prepared a topical gel from the blueberry phenolic extract. They examined three groups of wounded rats; the first group received the phenolic gel treatment, the second group was provided with a base gel with no phenol, and the third group received no treatment. The wound closure in the rats that belonged to the first group was 12% faster as compared to others, moreover, the rate of vascularization was also up by 20%.
“Wild blueberries have the potential to enhance cell migration, new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), and vascularization and to speed up wound closure. This is especially important in conditions that require enhanced wound closure in patients with chronic wounds such as diabetic wounds, burns, and pressure ulcers,” wrote Tolu Esther Adekeye, the first author of the study.
The untapped potential of blueberries
While the study has only been carried out on rats and its findings have not been confirmed on humans, the findings point to significant potential health benefits for this type of extract.
A separate study published in 2020 also pointed out that the blueberry-rich diet can increase oxygen concentration in body cells and facilitate skeletal muscle regeneration (especially in the case of young women aged between 21 and 40). The study reveals that if a person consumes blueberries for at least six months, then his or her body is likely to have an increased number of muscle progenitor cells.
Professor Klimis-Zacas has been studying blueberries since 2001 and believes that not enough research work has been done on these wild fruits. This is why, the researcher emphasizes, many people aren’t even aware of the potential health benefits that blueberries can deliver, especially when it comes to healing. In an interview with Wild Blueberries of North America, she said:
“When we first started, there was no research published in this area. It was an uncharted field. I was one of the few first scientists who began working with the berry. The early studies we conducted on the role of Wild Blueberries and vascular function were crucial because they documented the important beneficial effects of Wild Blueberries and prompted other scientists to explore their role in other diseases.”
If the blueberry extract suggested by Klimis-Zacas and his team turns out to be successful in treating human wounds with the same or increased efficiency then this might change the global wound care industry. Their promising study based on phenolic extract was be presented in Experimental Biology 2022, an annual event organized by five prestigious American societies dedicated to research in different scientific disciplines including biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy. The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.