The Benefits of Adversity

Alaska Natives don’t eat large quantities of berries at a time — more like a handful — but they eat those small quantities consistently. That’s an effective nutritional strategy because of the high levels of flavonoids and other nutrients they contain.

A handful of studies published in the 1970s and 80s suggested that plants that grow in harsh environments produce more flavonoids in order to protect themselves. This research went unnoticed for decades, but scientists have revisited this theory recently and established its merit. In fact, a 2012 study on how temperature and light affect the nutritional value of bilberries found that Northern species produced significantly higher levels of flavonols (a class of flavonoids), anthocyanins, and polyphenols. [tooltip tip=”Uleberg E, et al. “Effects of temperature and photoperiod on yield and chemical composition of northern and southern clones of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillius L.).” J Agric Food Chemistry. 2012 Oct 24; 60(42): 10406-14.”]30[/tooltip]

In Alaska, it is common to see snow remaining on the ground until the beginning of summer, even though the air may reach temperatures in the 80 to 90 degree range. Plants growing under these unusual environmental conditions must coordinate gene expression and enzymatic activities, largely under the control of protective secondary metabolites such as flavonoids and other polyphenolics. That’s why we’re not at all surprised that AuroraBlue® contains up to 10 times the bioactive compounds and antioxidant capacity measured in products made with wild blueberries and cultivated varieties from lower latitudes. These blueberry species don’t even grow in Alaska, as they cannot withstand the unforgiving climate.

But antioxidants like flavonoids are only part of the story. Many of the nutrients in wild Alaska plants are hormetic, meaning that very low concentrations can prime cells to respond to stress in a healthy way. Such substances enter cells in various tissues and influence how they signal each other and how genes are transcribed and expressed. Denali BioTechnologies Inc. is excited to be at the forefront of this late-breaking scientific research.