Can blueberries boost the brain?
With older age come a greater number of health issues including dementia. There is no certain way to prevent dementia but scientists have been looking at the role that diet can play. People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables over their lifetime are known to have a lower risk of dementia.
Scientists have singled out one particular class of chemicals found in plant foods, called flavonoids, which may be the ‘active’ agent that could be protecting the brain from damage.
A sub-class of flavonoids called anthocyanidins have been gaining attention because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanidins are abundant in berries and contribute to the bright red, blue and purple colours in these foods.
A recent clinical trial looked at whether a concentrated quantity of anthocyanidins can give a boost in brain function. The study involved 26 healthy adults aged between 65 and 77.
Half of the group were given concentrated blueberry juice to drink each day for 12 weeks. The juice was equivalent to eating 230 grams of whole blueberries. The other half drank a placebo that had the taste, but no anthocyanidins.
After 12 weeks, people drinking the blueberry supplement showed improvements in cognitive function, blood flow to the brain and activation of brain areas linked with cognitive function. There was also evidence suggesting an improvement in working memory too.
Despite being a small study, the results fit with the larger research narrative that flavonoids can have beneficial effects on the workings of the brain. Choosing a diet high in a variety of fruits and vegetables and including some delicious berries as well may go some way to reducing the risk of declining brain function in older age.
Last Reviewed: 01/01/2020
© Norman Swan Medical Communications.
Bowtell JL et al. Enhanced task related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism Epub online March 1, 2017. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0550.