Jul 06

Berries for Brain Health

berries for brain health

Berries for brain health

Brain health has been on my mind quite a bit lately. Frankly, anyone who has a brain should seriously contemplate this topic on occasion, IMO. After all, brain function tends to decline with advancing years, none of us are getting any younger!

Part of the reason I set my neurons cells onto this path is the number of interesting studies recently reported on brain function and Alzheimer’s disease. One such study, for example, appeared in Neurology, in which the authors explained how use of a cognitive test might help predict the development of Alzheimer’s 18 years before a clinical diagnosis is possible.

Another new study concerns the consumption of certain berries and mental agility. Of the several books and scores of articles I’ve written over the years concerning brain health and dementia, research covering the role of nutrition has always been among my favorite. So when I saw this newly published article, it seemed a good time to visit the topic of berries for brain health. I actually thought about it as I was picking the wild blackberries during my morning walk just the other day!.

Why berries for your brain

It’s been shown that berries are rich in antioxidants, substances that are adept at fighting the molecules called free radicals that promote aging and numerous disease and health challenges. The star antioxidants in berries are anthocyanins.

A broad spectrum of research has shown that anthocyanins–the pigment found in blueberries, blackcurrants, blackberries, acai berries, aronia, pomegranates, and other berries sporting a deep red, purple, or blue color—are feisty compounds against the causative factors in the development of many major conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer, among others. So should you stock up on anthocyanin supplements?

Generally, getting your nutrients from whole foods is preferable to taking a supplement, and the same is likely true of anthocyanins. Scientists have not yet determined whether downing high concentrations of these berry antioxidants can be beneficial for brain health or other health issues. In addition, since nutritional supplements are not well regulated, choosing delicious berries over the supplement bottle seems like the wiser choice.

Berries for brain health

The study that prompted me to explore the topic of berries for brain health comes from the scientists at Plant & Food Research (New Zealand), who worked with experts at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom. They discovered that compounds present in New Zealand blackcurrants were capable of improving accuracy, attention, and mood in healthy adults ages 18 to 35.

berries for brain healthMore accurately, the researchers found that the juice of a New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar known as Blackadder reduced the activity of monoamine oxidases, which are enzymes known to regulate concentrations of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This is significant because these two chemicals have an impact on cognition and mood.

The research findings are also important because this investigation “is the first to look at the effects of berry consumption on the cognitive performance of healthy young adults,” reported the study’s lead scientist, Dr. Arjan Scheepens. Specifically, the researchers observed that individuals who consumed either an anthocyanin-enriched New Zealand blackcurrant extract or a cold-pressed version experienced

  • A reduction in mental fatigue
  • An improvement in mood and attention
  • A significant decline in the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes, which suggested the blackcurrant compounds have the potential to serve as a functional food ingredient for support of brain health or management of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

I realize most people don’t have ready access to fresh New Zealand blackcurrants. But perhaps the important take-home message from this study is the support it provides to previous research concerning the potent antioxidant power of anthocyanins.

One of the most accessible berries touting these brain-boosters and disease-fighters is blueberries.

Not long ago (2012) a report by a researcher at Tufts University noted that “consumption of blueberries may be one strategy to forestall or even reverse age-related neuronal deficits,” and that “the polyphenolic compounds found in blueberries exert their beneficial effects” in several ways.  The authors concluded that the actions of these compounds “may protect against age-related deficits in cognitive and motor function.”

berries for brain healthThat’s high praise for some little blue fruit. But the brain health benefits extend beyond blackcurrants and blueberries.

  • Pomegranate seeds (not a berry but high in anthocyanins) have been found to improve memory and motor coordination in rat studies
  • A Journal of Nutrition article noted that blueberry and Concord grape juice supplementation in people with mild cognitive impairment improved their verbal memory performance
  • Wild blackberries, but not commercial blackberry extract, were found to provide a neuroprotective effect
  • A review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition said there is “growing evidence” that the “bioactive components in nuts and berries can have a beneficial effect on the brain and cognition,” and that eating berries on a regular basis could be helpful “in the treatment and prevention of several neurodegenerative diseases and age-related brain dysfunction.”
  • Women who eat lots of strawberries and blueberries reportedly can delay their cognitive decline by 2.5 years, according to a study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University

When it comes to brain health, berries seem to be an excellent choice. They are delicious, easy to eat, available year round (depending on the berry and your location), and provide a treasure trove of antioxidant power. Which berries are you going to enjoy today?

Also Read: Bet on Berries for Fighting Cancer

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Devore EE et al. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of Neurology 2012 Apr 25. DOI:10.1002/ana.23594

Hajipour S et al. Motor and cognitive deficits due to permanent cerebral hypoperfusion/ischemia improve by pomegranate seed extract in rats. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 2014 Aug; 17(8): 991-998

Joseph JA et al. Grape juice, berries, and walnuts affect brain aging and behavior. Journal of Nutrition 2009 Sep; 139(9): 1813S-7S

Poulose SH et al. Improving brain signaling in aging: could berries be the answer? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics 2012 Aug; 12(8): 887-889

Pribis P, Shukitt-Hale B. Cognition: the new frontier for nuts and berries. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2014 Jul; 100 Suppl 1:347S-52S

Rajan KB et al. Cognitive impairment 18 years before clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer disease dementia. Neurology 2015 Jun 24 online before print

Shukitt-Hale B. Blueberries and neuronal aging. Gerontology 2012; 58(6): 518-23.

Tavares L et al. Neuroprotective effects of digested polyphenols from wild blackberry species. European Journal of Nutrition 2013 Feb; 52(1): 225-36

Uncovering the broad spectrum protection of anthocyanins. Life Extension

New Zealand blackcurrants good for the brain.