Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Your Brain On Berries

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Berries (Photo credit: KilljoyDivine)

Could eating delicious, colorful berries actually protect our brains from cognitive decline as we age?  Looks that way. The research shows specifically that compounds called flavonoids in berries affect the communication between brain cells or neurons.

Most of the berries contain powerful antioxidants and flavonoids called anthocyanins, a compound that contributes to the color of the berries.  These anthocyanins are found in blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, bilberries, huckleberries, cranberries as well as grapes and currants.

Data was analyzed from the well-known Nurses Health Study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; in this case the study group included 16, 010 women over the age of 70.  The women completed dietary questionnaires every four years beginning in 1980 and tested for memory function every two years between 1995 and 2001.

After analysis of the data, women who consumed two or more half-cup servings of strawberries or one or more half cups of blueberries per week saw slower mental decline – equivalent up to two and a half years of delayed decline.  That’s a pretty good return for eating berries a few times a week.

Another study used a randomized clinical trial that was performed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Welch’s grape juice. Concord grape juice or a placebo was randomly given to 21 volunteers based on their body weights – i.e., the heavier people were given more each day.  It was found that those in the grape juice group scored better on memory tests than the placebo group.  Additionally, MRI tests showed greater activation in certain parts of the brain suggesting better blood flow to the brain. These findings supported a previous study on Concord grape juice in 2006 that reversed brain aging in rats.

Delaying mental decline is not the only beneficial effect with eating berries.  In another study, anthocyanins, appeared to protect men from Parkinson’s disease.  In this study data from 49,281 men from the Health Professional Follow-up Study and 80,336 women from the Nurses’ Health Study was analyzed.

For this analysis, investigators ranked flavonoid intake into quintiles after controlling for age, lifestyle, etc.   Men in the highest quintile had a significant 40% lower risk for Parkinson’s disease, but the association was not found in women.

A number of studies have shown that mortality from CHD is inversely correlated with intake of flavonoids in the diet. Flavonoids may also help prevent strokes. While some flavonoids have been shown to inhibit tumor development, some experts have concluded that compounds other than flavonoids must be responsible for the anticancer effects of dietary fruits and vegetables.

Do your brain a favor.  It’s so easy to eat berries – just put them on cereal or yogurt in the morning.


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One thought on “Your Brain On Berries

  1. Pingback: A Poem About Grapes « Publish N Prosper

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