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Blueberries May Be Good for the Brain

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The humble blueberry may be good for the brain, according to new research. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that what we eat can have profound effect on our body, and may even help keep our memory and thinking skills in the best possible shape as we age.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center report that older men and women given a blueberry powder extract showed modest improvements in memory and thinking skills. The findings, presented at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, “add further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults,” said Robert Krikorian, the leader of the research team.

One study involved 47 adults aged 68 and older with mild cognitive impairment, a form of memory loss that may progress to Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers gave them either freeze-dried blueberry powder, equivalent to a cup of berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks.

“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo,” Dr. Krikorian said. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts.” The team also conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans, which showed increased brain activity in those who ingested the blueberry powder.

The second study included 94 men and women in their 60s and 70s who were worried about memory problems, though none had Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment. Some got blueberry powder or fish oil, or both, added to their diets, whole others got a placebo. There were some modest improvements in thinking skills in those getting blueberry powder or fish oil, Dr. Krikorian said, though no boost in memory.

Dr. Krikorian said the two studies indicate that blueberries may be more effective in treating patients with cognitive impairments, but may not show measurable benefit for those with minor memory issues or who have not yet developed cognitive problems. He and his colleagues plan future studies to test the potential benefits of blueberries in younger people to see if the fruits might help ward off memory problems.

Earlier studies in animals have shown that blueberries may have benefits for cognitive health, and some preliminary studies in people have shown similarly promising results. An analysis from 2012, for example, showed that older women who regularly ate blueberries and strawberries had slower rates of mental decline than those who ate berries infrequently. And elderly adults who followed the MIND diet, which included blueberries, had slower rates of age-related cognitive decline. [See the alzinfo.org story, “A Heart Healthy Diet That’s Good for the Brain,” at https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention/a-heart-healthy-diet-thats-good-for-the-brain/ ]

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients that have been linked to heart and blood vessel health throughout the body, including in the brain. Blueberries also contain resveratrol, a naturally occurring compound found in red wine, grapes and dark chocolate. High-doses of resveratrol have been studied for their potential life-extending properties, and some early research suggests it may have benefits for the brain as well. [See the alzinfo.org story, “Red Wine Ingredient, Resveratrol, Shows Hints of Promise for Alzheimer’s” at https://www.alzinfo.org/articles/prevention/red-wine-ingredient-resveratrol-shows-hints-of-promise-for-alzheimers/ ]

The researchers received funding from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, the National Institute on Aging and Wild Blueberries of North America.

By ALZinfo.org, The Alzheimer’s Information Site. Reviewed by Marc Flajolet, Ph.D., Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at The Rockefeller University.

Source: Robert Krikorian, et al, 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, San Diego, Calif., March 2016

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