Berries May Help Keep Your Brain Sharp
April 27, 2012

Berries May Help Keep Your Brain Sharp

Connie K. Ho for

Called the “candy of nature,” fruits like blueberries and strawberries are delicious and sweet when they are in season. It´s probably best to take advantage of them when they are in season, as a new study reported in the medical journal Annals of Neurology found that eating blueberries and strawberries seems to help decrease cognitive decline in older adults. The results of the project imply that cognitive aging could be pushed back almost 2.5 years for elderly who consume berries that are high in flavonoids.

Flavonoids are thought to be in plants that are high in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While stress and inflammation can contribute to neural impairment, eating more flavonoids could help slow the effect. These new findings could be useful to the aging population of the United States. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there was a rise in elderly by 15 percent, faster than the total U.S. population.

"As the U.S. population ages, understanding the health issues facing this group becomes increasingly important," remarked Dr. Elizabeth Devore of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Our study examined whether greater intake of berries could slow rates of cognitive decline."

In the report that was published in the journal affiliated with the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, the team pooled data from a group of 121,700 female nurses between the ages of 30 and 55. They answered health and wellness questionnaires beginning in 1976; every four years after 1980, they were asked about their food consumption. Between 1995 and 2001, the scientists also measured cognitive function. At the end of the project, the researchers found that older women who ate more strawberries and blueberries tended to have slower cognitive decline.

"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," continued Devore in the statement. "Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."

The study also showed that there was great consumption of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids.

"Large epidemiological studies, such as this one, add to the basic science research that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of berries have a beneficial role in age-related cognitive decline," noted Robert Graham, an internist from Lenox Hill Hospital who isn´t affiliated with the study, in an interview with ABC Science. "I would advise all my patients, at any age, to eat more berries. Berries are an easy, nutritious and delicious way to preserve brain function."

Medical experts agree that the findings shine light on the positivity of eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables.

“Previous evidence has shown that eating fruit as part of a healthy diet in midlife could help to reduce our risk of dementia and so eating a healthy balanced diet is something we should all be thinking about,” noted Dr. Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer´s Research UK, in an article by the Daily Mail. “With 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, there is an urgent need to understand more about how to reduce the risk.”

Others, however, note that other factors might have affected the women as well as the researchers were not able to account for lifestyle choices like exercising more.

“Broccoli, blueberries, Mediterranean diet, is very difficult indeed to be sure that this is not residual confounding as these kinds of dietary patterns are associated with many other positive attributes, which themselves are associated with healthier ageing,” explained Carol Brayne, Professor of Public Health Medicine at the University of Cambridge, in an interview with the Daily Mail. “Blueberries have been of interest for many years and it´s certainly worth further investigation, but for definitive evidence we have to await well designed trials as this is another observational study.´

Most agree, though, that it is no difficult to incorporate berries into your diets as they are relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare.

"It's pretty easy," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at the North Shore-LIJ Health System, in an article by Web M.D. "Wash them. Put them on a baking sheet in the freezer for a few hours. Then transfer them to a freezer-safe bag."