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Migratory birds are teaching humans about the benefits of superfood berries

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: superfoods, migratory birds, health news

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(NaturalNews) Birds such as sparrows, thrushes and warblers are apparently experts on preventing disease and optimizing their bodies to deal with stress. If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider this: scientists at the University of Rhode Island (URI) have discovered these migratory birds eat certain nutrient-packed berries instead of their usual diet of bugs at certain times of the year. Why would this change in eating habits be beneficial? It turns out, according to the URI researchers, that the superfood fruit the birds eat offers protection against oxidative stress that occurs during long flights. This news is important because oxidative stress is known to trigger inflammation and a host of serious diseases -- in both birds and humans.

The new research, recently announced at the American Chemical Society's 239th national meeting held last month in San Francisco, revealed that birds stopping over on Block Island specifically go after arrow-wood berries which contain more anti-oxidants and pigments than the 11 other berries that grow on the island. That means the migratory birds somehow know to specifically zero in on arrow-wood berries, the richest source of nutrients in the area.

Navindra Seeram, assistant professor of pharmacy and head of the Bioactive Botanical Research Laboratory at URI, and Scott McWilliams, a URI professor of wildlife ecology and physiology who has studied migratory birds for over a decade, are researching migratory birds' eating habits to see how this knowledge could help human health. The two teamed up after McWilliams learned that Seeram was researching oxidative stress and inflammation and the effects berry fruits can have on reducing those disease-linked problems in people. Anti-oxidants found in berries are believed to play an important role in preventing cancer and other serious diseases.

Working with URI graduate student Jessica Bolser and post-doctoral researcher Liya Li, Seeram and McWilliams spent months on Block Island carefully observing what the birds' ate, collecting samples of 12 different kinds of berries, and analyzing the berries to document their anti-oxidant content. They found that migratory birds eat the arrow-wood berries, digest them and defecate the seeds over wide areas, thereby ensuring the survival of the plants.

"We're suggesting that birds choose deeply colored berry fruits in part because of their anti-oxidant properties...the birds are attracted to the berries because of their rich color, which we believe is a plant's response to the stress of constant exposure to the sun and other stresses," Seeram said in a statement to the media. "It's a partnership that benefits plant and bird."

The URI research is expected to help bird conservation efforts because the findings could play a critical role in habitat protection for migratory birds. It could also be a boon to human health, guiding humans to locate nutrient-dense superfood berries by, literally, going to the birds to see what they eat to in order to cope with physical stress.

As NaturalNews has previously reported, a variety of berries are being studied by scientists for their health-building properties. For example, purple berries such as blueberries and acai contain antioxidants called anthocyanins that have been shown to protect the heart and vision, promote mental focus, and prevent oxidative stress (http://www.naturalnews.com/027477_berries_he...).

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