It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables play an important role in supporting our overall health, as well as in specific areas (cardiovascular, digestive, etc.). Research is growing in the area of nutrition and brain health, and it may be that the same produce that benefits your body is also incredibly good for your brain.
As found in studies of the MIND diet — the dementia-fighting Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay — research on the brain benefits of specific foods has focused in particular on berries. Although blueberries have attracted the most scientific attention, other berries including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and cranberries contain similar pigment compounds called anthocyanins which give berries their distinctive colors.
Anthocyanins can cross the blood-brain barrier to become localized in areas of the brain related to learning and memory. In the brain, anthocyanins decrease vulnerability to the oxidative stress that occurs with aging, reduce inflammation, and may increase neuronal signaling.
An analysis of data on berry consumption among 16,000 women over age 70 participating in the Nurses’ Health Study suggests how berries might affect aging brains. The women were tested for memory and other cognitive functions every two years and completed dietary questionnaires every four years. Researchers found that those who consumed two or more half-cup servings of strawberries or blueberries per week experienced slower mental decline — equivalent over time to up to 2 1/2 years of delayed aging.
Berries in the lab
Tufts laboratory research further bolsters evidence for the potential brain benefits of berries. In one study, blueberry and strawberry powders were added to the diets of 42 aged lab rats. Compared to rats fed only their normal diet, those consuming diets supplemented with berries had enhanced motor performance and improved cognition, specifically working memory. The berries also boosted production of neurons in the hippocampus and of insulin-like growth factor-1 (ILGF-1), which has been associated with learning and memory.
Interestingly, the different polyphenol compounds in the berries also produced some different results. Rats fed blueberry powder performed better on psychomotor coordination while those fed the strawberry group did better in tests of general balance and coordination.
Previous studies conducted at Tufts found that the addition of blueberries to the diet improved short-term memory, navigational skills, balance, coordination, and reaction time. Compounds in blueberries seem to jump-start the brain in ways that get aging neurons to communicate again.
Adding berries to your diet
Don’t be put off by seasonal spikes in the prices of fresh berries at the supermarket. Berries retain their healthy qualities even when dried or frozen and can be enjoyed year-round.
Consider a smoothie made with fresh or frozen berries. While whole fruits (even pureed in a blender) are a healthier choice than juices, which sacrifice most of the fruits’ fiber content, the anthocyanins in berries and grapes seem to survive juicing.
Adapted from www.universityhealthnews.com