The Benefits of Berries for Our Brains

Bowl of strawberries and blueberries
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Like berries? So does your brain.

Multiple studies have demonstrated a brain benefit from berries, with many of the studies specifically identifying benefits from strawberries and blueberries.

Research in Animals

One study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry looked at how blueberries affected the memory of mice. In this study, half of the mice were fed a high fat diet while the others were fed a low fat diet.

Additionally, some of the mice on the high fat diet were also given freeze-dried blueberry powder. Throughout the study, the memories of the mice were tested. Those receiving the high fat diet performed significantly more poorly than those on the low fat diet. However, the mice on the high fat diet who received the blueberries performed as well as those who were on the low fat diet. This study demonstrates that blueberries were able to counteract some of the negative effects of a high fat diet on the brains of mice.

Another study involved rats who received irradiation to cause their brains to age. Some of the rats were fed a diet high in berries and walnuts prior to receiving the irradiation and others were not. The brains of the rats who ate the diet high in blueberries, strawberries, acai fruit and walnuts were protected against inflammation, oxidative stress and loss of autophagy- a necessary function to keep the brain clear of excess or damaged proteins.

Inflammation and an inability to clear excess proteins in the brain are both related to Alzheimer's disease.

Research in Humans

But, is there any proof that berries help humans? How do we know if this animal research holds true in humans as well?

A study published in the Annals of Neurology demonstrated that higher consumption of blueberries and strawberries was associated with a significant delay in cognitive decline. Over 16,000 registered nurses completed questionnaires since 1980 regarding several aspects of their diet. In 1995 to 2001, researchers began administering tests to these participants to assess their cognitive functioning. The results showed a strong correlation between berry consumption and memory. Higher levels of berry intake were associated with slowed cognitive decline by an average of 1.5 to 2.5 years.

Additionally, a review of multiple studies concluded that berries reduce inflammation in humans and improve cognition in people with mild cognitive impairment.

Healthy Diet

Research frequently shows that what's good for our bodies, in terms of diet and exercise, is also good for our brains. 

    Sources:

    Annals of Neurology. Volume 72, Issue 1. July 2012. Pages 135–143. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/ana.23594/

    The FASBE Journal. 2012;26:255.6. Protective effects of berries and walnuts against the accelerated aging and age-associated stress caused by irradiation in critical regions of rat brain. http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/meeting_abstract/26/1_MeetingAbstracts/255.6

    Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. January 21, 2014.  Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Middle-Aged Mice Fed a High-Fat Diet. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf404565s?prevSearch=berries%2Bbrains&searchHistoryKey=

    Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2012, 60, 5709−5715. Berry Fruit Enhances Beneficial Signaling in the Brain. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22264107

    The Journal of Pathology. May 2010; 221(1): 3–12. Autophagy: cellular and molecular mechanisms. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2990190/

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