Every year, the blueberries growing along my parent’s Michigan driveway provide a favorite healthy snack for their children and grandchildren.
And that’s fantastic because yesterday’s post showed how University of Reading researcher Adrian White’s numerous studies had revealed the wonderful ways blueberries benefit younger brains.
But in 2018, he expanded his research with a look at blueberries and the brain of the elderly.
His randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial separated 122 adults aged 65 to 80 into four groups. Every day for six months, the seniors consumed a small dose of one of three blueberry mixtures or a fake placebo.
They also underwent memory and executive function testing at the study’s beginning, midpoint and end. Interestingly, only one blueberry mixture significantly impacted their test results.
It was the one with the most anthocyanins, measuring 7 mg per dose. The other mixtures weighed in at 2.7 and 1.35 mg of anthocyanins. While more than two to four times the anthocyanin content in the ineffective mixtures, 7 mg is still a minuscule amount.
Fresh highbush blueberries have about 387 mg of anthocyanins per 100 grams, or 1/2 a cup! One-half a cup holds approximately 35 normally sized fresh blueberries. So each blueberry provides 11 mg of anthocyanins.
A single blueberry has over 50 percent more anthocyanins than the 7-mg dose mixture used in the study. This is what you call an easily achievable amount of anthocyanins!
The area in which the study’s participants showed the most improvement from the anthocyanin-rich blueberries was their episodic memory score. Episodic memory refers to long-term memory recalling specific events.
- Your first day of school
- Your best childhood friend’s birthday parties
- How you learned to ride a bike
Explaining the Incredible Interaction among Anthocyanins, Blueberries and the Brain of Elderly Adults
In their study’s discussion, Whyte and his team noted the results were consistent with other research linking elevated Brain-Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF) to “flavonoid” intervention. (Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid.)
BDNF is known to impact the part of the brain related to episodic memory.
A University of Reading study from a different research team looked at blueberries’ effect on the brains of healthy younger and elderly adults.
They attributed the improvement in cognitive abilities to two primary factors.
- In both age groups, an increase in BDNF followed blueberry consumption.
- They also observed cerebral blood flow (CBF) improve in certain areas of the brain.
They concluded that “… acute blueberry supplementation led to improvement in some cognitive abilities, possibly due to the impact of flavonoids on cell signaling pathways (e.g. those involving BDNF), in addition to… subsequent CBF increases.”
The University of Reading’s researchers aren’t alone in studying blueberries and the brain. Many others have uncovered strong links between blueberries and brainpower.
Marshall G. Miller of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial on blueberries and the brain. It included cognitively healthy adults aged 60 to 75.
Half the group consumed 24 grams a day of freeze-dried blueberries. The other half consumed a fake placebo powder. The participants underwent cognitive testing at the beginning, midpoint, and end of the three-month trial.
On the California Verbal Learning Test, the participants listened to a series of words and then attempted to remember them and the categories to which they belonged. The freeze-dried blueberry group made significantly fewer errors than the placebo group.
In the task-switching test measuring their ability to switch attention between different tasks unconsciously, the blueberry group also excelled.
Blueberries Reversing Mild Memory Decline
Miller’s study was similar to prior blueberries and the brain research with equally impressive results. Led by the University of Cincinnati’s Robert Krikorian, it included nine adults with a median age of 76.2 years. All were struggling with mild memory decline.
Every day for 12 weeks, they added a small dose of blueberry juice to their normal diets. Then they took the California Verbal Learning Test.
How well did they perform?
Significantly better in the Word List Recall and Paired Associate Learning! Krikorian also noted that they experienced reduced depression and lower glucose levels.
The research on blueberries and the brain of the elderly leaves no doubt. Eating just one blueberry a day can help us remain as sharp as tacks while we age.
Now, it’s time to plant more blueberry bushes along my parent’s driveway!