CINCINNATI, Ohio — An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but a new study finds blueberries may be better for your brain. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have found that half a cup of blueberries can prevent middle-aged adults from developing dementia as they age.
What’s more, the study finds that adding fruit to your diet lowers insulin levels and improves metabolic function — making it easier to burn fat for energy.
What makes blueberries so special?
While blueberries are quite similar to other berries and plants like red cabbage, study author Robert Krikorian notes that this superfood is high in micronutrients and antioxidants called anthocyanins. These give blueberries their classic color and protect the fruit from excessive exposure to radiation, plant viruses and other potential threats.
Anthocyanins provide even more benefits when people eat them. These include reducing inflammation, improving metabolic function and boosting energy production in the cells.
Previous studies by Krikorian’s team have focused on how blueberries improve the health of older adults. The new study looked at using blueberries as a preventative measure against age-related cognitive decline. In addition, Krikorian says that 50 percent of the American population develops insulin resistance — or prediabetes — in middle age. Prediabetes can increase your risk of developing other chronic diseases in old age.
“We had observed cognitive benefits of blueberries in previous studies involving older adults and thought they might be effective in younger individuals with insulin resistance,” said Krikorian, professor emeritus and director of the psychology department in the Department of Psychiatry at the UC College of Medicine. . and Behavioral Neuroscience, in a university release. “Alzheimer’s disease, like all chronic diseases of old age, develops over many years, beginning in middle age.”
Blueberry supplements seem to sharpen the mind
Researchers collected 33 patients in the Cincinnati area for this study. Each person was between the ages of 50 and 65, was overweight, was prediabetic and began to experience a slight decline in memory. Studies show that these pre-existing conditions generally put people at higher risk for dementia.
During a 12-week experiment, the participants abstained from eating all other types of berries except a daily packet of supplement powder that they mixed with water. The package contained either the equivalent of half a cup of whole blueberries or a placebo.
The group also took exams to measure their cognitive abilities. The tests focused in particular on skills that decline with age, such as working memory, mental flexibility and self-control. The results show that the blueberry group showed improved cognitive performance compared to the placebo group.
“This was clearly seen in the reduced interference of external information during learning and memory,” Krikorian explains.
Participants in the blueberry group also saw their metabolism improve and they were able to burn fat more easily. Those who consumed blueberries also showed higher levels of mitochondrial uncoupling. This is an important cellular process that has been linked in studies to increased longevity because it reduces oxidative stress.
“Sample size is an obvious limitation of the study, so it will be important to reproduce these findings, especially by other researchers,” concludes Krikorian. “In the meantime, it might be a good idea to consume blueberries on a regular basis.”
The study is published in the journal nutrients†
The US Highbush Blueberry Council of Folsom, California provided funding for this research.