CINCINNATI, Ohio— An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a new study reveals that blueberries may be better for your brain. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati have found that half a cup of blueberries can prevent middle-aged adults from developing dementia as they age.
Additionally, 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?
Although blueberries are quite similar to other berries and plants like red cabbage, study author Robert Krikorian notes that this superfood contains high levels of micronutrients and antioxidants called anthocyanins. These give blueberries their classic color while protecting 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 cells.
Previous studies by Krikorian’s team have focused on how blueberries improve the health of older adults. The new study examined the use of blueberries as a preventative measure against age-related cognitive decline. Additionally, Krikorian says that 50% of the US population develops insulin resistance — or prediabetes — by middle age. Prediabetes can increase the risk of developing other chronic diseases in old age.
“We had seen cognitive benefits with blueberries in previous studies with older adults and thought they might be effective in younger people with insulin resistance,” says Krikorian, professor emeritus and director of the psychology division of the department of psychiatry at the UC College of Medicine. and Behavioral Neuroscience, in an academic publication. “Alzheimer’s disease, like all chronic diseases of aging, develops over a period of years beginning in midlife.”
Bilberry Supplements Seem to Sharpen the Mind
The researchers rounded up 33 patients in the Cincinnati area for this study. Each person was between the ages of 50 and 65 and was overweight, prediabetic, and beginning to experience a slight decline in memory. Studies show that these pre-existing conditions generally put people at a higher risk of dementia.
During a 12-week experiment, participants abstained from eating all other kinds of berries except for one daily packet of the powdered supplement that they mixed with water. The package either contained the equivalent of half a cup of whole blueberries or a placebo.
The group also took tests measuring their cognitive abilities. Specifically, the tests focused on skills that decline with age, such as working memory, mental flexibility and self-control. The results show that the blueberry group displayed improved cognitive performance compared to the placebo group.
“This resulted in a reduction of superfluous information interference during learning and memory,” says Krikorian.
Participants in the blueberry group also saw their metabolic functions 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 studies have linked to longer lifespan because it reduces oxidative stress.
“The sample size is an obvious limitation of the study, so it will be important to replicate these results, especially by other researchers,” Krikorian concludes. “In the meantime, it may be a good idea to eat blueberries regularly.”
The study is published in the journal Nutrients.
The US Highbush Blueberry Council of Folsom, California funded this research.