Symposium introduction: the eighth biennial berry health benefits symposium

Navindra P. Seeram *a and Britt Burton-Freeman *b
aBioactive Botanical Research Laboratory, Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island, USA. E-mail:; Fax: +1-401-874-5787; Tel: +1-401-874-9367
bDepartment of Food Science and Nutrition, Center for Nutrition Research, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois, USA. E-mail:; Fax: +1-708-341-7078; Tel: +1-708-341-7078

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The Berry Health Benefits Symposium (BHBS) had its eighth biennial meeting in Portland, Oregon, United States of America (USA) from May 7–9, 2019. The BHBS continues to garner the interest of prominent berry researchers internationally. Likewise, a diverse audience of scientists, health professionals, and industry professionals including growers and processors, and sales and marketing personnel from small and large international companies alike attended to hear and interact with scientists. Spanning nearly two decades, the meeting presentations at the BHBS have progressed from mostly in vitro and in vivo animal models to human efficacy trials. In 2019, the BHBS featured thematic sessions on cardio-metabolic health and cardiovascular function, gut health and gut microflora, brain health and aging, and a session on berry special topics, food technology and chemistry. Oral presentations and a poster session, including a student poster competition provided two-days packed with the latest berry research. The presentations largely focused on the major North American berry crops, including blackberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, strawberries, blueberries (cultivated and wild), and cranberries. Pre-meeting sessions brought berry research terminology into focus with presentations by Navindra Seeram and Britt Burton-Freeman (Berry-ology 104) followed by insights from a panel of academic and industry scientists on using sound science to formulate clear communications of nutrition research. International marketing is always a challenging topic and the discussion proved no different (marketing professionals from berry brands were panelists). A special guest presentation was delivered by Adam Drewnowski (University of Washington) who provided insights into how to distinguish berries as a sub-category of fruits using nutrient profile modelling. The meeting sessions culminated with a gala dinner and a keynote address by Professor Mary Ann Lila (North Carolina State University) who spoke on “Berries – They're not just for breakfast anymore” highlighting topical and cosmetic applications of berries. The combination of topics, berry learning opportunities, and wide-ranging professional interactions makes the BHBS the leading global scientific meeting dedicated to berry health benefits research.

The 2019 BHBS was supported by the National Berry Crop Initiative (NBCI), a not-for profit partnership of industry, academia and government (based in the USA), with sponsorship (in alphabetical order) from: Aneberries, Artemis International, California Strawberry Commission, Chilean Blueberry Committee, Complete Phytochemical Solutions, Driscoll's, Inc., Florida Strawberry Growers Association, GoodFarms, National Processed Raspberry Council, Naturipe Farms, LLC, North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association, North American Strawberry Growers Association, Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, Oregon Strawberry Commission, Royal Society of Chemistry's Food & Function Journal, Sun Belle, Inc., The Cranberry Institute, The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Ltd, US Highbush Blueberry Council, Washington Red Raspberries, Well·Pict Berries, Wild Blueberry Association of North America, Wyman's of Maine.

Invited oral presentations occurred in five thematic sessions including: ‘Berries and Cardio-Metabolic Health’ chaired by Britt Burton-Freeman (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, USA); ‘Berry Phytochemicals and Metabolites and Cardiovascular Function’ chaired by Mary Ann Lila (North Carolina State University, Kannapolis Campus, NC, USA); ‘Berries and Brain Health’, chaired by Barbara Shukitt-Hale (USDA-ARS Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA, USA); ‘Berries and Gut Health/Gut Microbiota’, chaired by Jess Reed (University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA); ‘Berry Special Topics, Food Technology & Chemistry’ chaired by Navindra Seeram (University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA). The poster session and competition was chaired by Luke Howard (University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR, USA) engaging thoughtful interactions with students, post-doctoral fellows and seasoned scientists. A first time junior scientist oral presentation session included three selected doctoral students from an abstract competition to present their research in a standard mini-symposium. A list of speakers in each session and accompanying titles and abstracts can be found at (

The 2019 BHBS presentations underscored berry compositional chemistry and how their consumption is related to human health. Berries embody a unique composition, i.e. a berry ‘metabolome’ that distinguishes them from other fruit and vegetable sub-categories. Their inherent pigment compounds, known as anthocyanins, are what people recognize them for first. However, they also contain an array of other (poly)phenols, including flavan-3-ols, flavonols, cinnamic acids and other small phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, and gallotannins and ellagitannins, among others. When consumed, the human body produces a vast number of metabolites. Technological advances in mass spectrometry allow researchers to quantify and characterize their absorption, distribution, metabolism, and clearance kinetics. A wide range of studies support the potential human health effects of berries and berry compounds and how they work multi-mechanistically to exert these effects. For instance, at this BHBS, data were shared on how red raspberry consumption influences browning of white adipose tissue in select mouse models, having implications in metabolic rate, obesity and insulin signalling important for follow up in humans. The data on blueberries and strawberries from human intervention studies are growing in number showing biological effects on endothelial function, lipids, and insulin/glucose dynamics, and cognition. Presenters reported berry intervention effects on the brain across the life span from 7 years to 70 years, suggesting eating berries at any age can make noticeable improvements in health that are measurable via tests on the body and brain. While some common effects are apparent in these studies, data are also starting to indicate that each berry type and their unique metabolite profile may translate to specific benefits on health outcomes. Likewise, the role of berries in gut health is rapidly emerging, showing changes in gut microbial composition and function. Researchers brought to light the intersections of the gut and brain (i.e., gut–brain-axis) and the impact of gut health on metabolic health. Recent work sheds light on specific types and sub-classes of berry polyphenols that influence gut microbiota composition and gut barrier function, lending insight into local as well as systemic health. A special topics, food technology and chemistry session highlighted the biological activity of berry aromatic volatiles, beyond their usual flavor enhancing actions. And while berry compositional phytochemistry usually focuses research attention on their polyphenolic constituents, the health prospects of their complex carbohydrates was presented underscoring how the complex matrix of substances in toto impart health benefits to these ‘superfruits’. Also, currently, there is a major issue of too few berries being consumed (data from 2007–2012 NHANES), yet the importance of eating berries regularly is emerging as is the evidence for eating a variety of berry types. The evidence for better nutrient profiling methods is clear, especially now that databases are available to incorporate biological actives into our models. These models combined with health benefits research inform dietary intake policy, help consumers choose foods with the highest nutrient quality, and help parents to purchase the best tasting nutrient dense fruits for their families.

In sum, similar to the past BHBS meetings, the 2019 BHBS was another highly successful meeting communicating the latest science on berry health benefits and allowing networking among professionals from various disciplines. We thank Food and Function and the NBCI, all the donors and participants of the 2019 BHBS, as well as the contributors of this themed collection of papers. We look forward to the next BHBS in the near future.


Part of the 2019 Berry Health Benefits Symposium.

This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2020