The Benefits of Berries to the Brain

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The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has reviewed the studies and found that berry fruits protect brain cells from damage and prevent inflammation.

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Developing Alzheimer's disease (AD) or some other form of dementia is a very real concern for older adults. The potential loss of dignity, identity, and independence is a frightening thought. There is good news on the nutrition front, however. Berries may provide protection against Alzheimer's as well as age-related memory loss and other types of cognitive decline.

Marshall G. Miller and Barbara Shukitt-Hale, researchers with the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, reviewed cellular, animal, and human studies on berry fruits and the aging brain and found strong evidence that blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and other berry fruits have beneficial effects.

They found that berry fruits protect the brain in several ways. They contain high amounts of antioxidants that protect cells from damage. Berry fruits also change the way that neurons in the brain communicate, and this may prevent inflammation in the brain that can damage neurons. Components in berries also improve cognition and motor control.

With people living longer today and the first of the baby boomers having reached the age of 65, there are increasing concerns about the toll that AD and other types of mental decline will have on individuals, their families, and the cost of health care. An estimated 5.4 million people (or one in eight) have AD at an estimated cost of $183 million annually.

Plant foods, including fruits and vegetables, are the primary source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Berry fruits contain high amounts of phenolic compounds, particularly anthocyanins, potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory chemicals that give berries their bright red, blue, and purple colors. Berry fruits also contain a wide variety of other antioxidants, but their role in brain health is poorly understood. Other berry fruits include raspberries, huckleberries, cranberries, wineberries, bilberries, mulberries, grapes, and currants.

More research is needed to fully understand how the wide variety of phytochemicals found in berry fruits work. Whether there is a single component that is responsible for the benefits of berries or whether there are many phytochemicals that work together to provide benefits is unknown. It is also unknown if there are critical periods in the lifecycle during which increasing the intake of berries can prevent, or possibly reverse, the negative effects of aging on the brain.

In the meantime, eat more berries.

The study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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Beth Fontenot is a registered dietitian and a licensed dietitian/nutritionist. She serves on the Louisiana Board of Examiners in Dietetics and Nutrition and writes for TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com.

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