There may be hope for clients suffering from cognitive decline from the juicy powerhouse that is the blueberry. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids, specifically anthocyanins that have been shown to increase cognition. This has previously been observed in animals, but now is being documented in humans as well.
The first of two exciting new studies, conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, involved 47 adults with mild cognitive impairment. Each participant was put through a battery of testing to assess memory and cognition, then tested again at the end of the study. They were then split into two groups. One group received one cup of freeze dried blueberry powder per day, once a day, for 16 weeks. The other group received a placebo. In the blueberry group, memory was improved, along with access to words and concepts. This effect was not observed in the placebo group. When the brains of the blueberry group were observed with an MRI, they were found to have an increase in brain activity, which was again exclusive to this group.
Group experienced increased cognition
The second study at the same institute involved 94 people in 4 groups, who self-reported a decline in memory. The groups received blueberry powder, fish oil, fish oil and powder, or a placebo. These results were less dramatic, which is explained by Dr. Krikorian who headed the study as due to the less severe symptoms of the participants at entry. Still, there was increased cognition in the blueberry powder group, and the fish oil group.
Dr. Krikorian notes that blueberries may be more helpful for those older adults already suffering from cognitive decline than those who have less severe problems, but only because the results in the older population are so dramatic. Blueberries can also be used to help prevent deterioration in brain function by adding them to the diet earlier in life. Since dementia and Alzheimer’s can begin deteriorating the brain much sooner than symptoms are noticed, adding blueberries to take a proactive approach may help ensure better brain function in later years.
This antioxidant can reduce inflammation
He believes that this benefit is specifically from the anthocyanins in blueberries and other fruits that gives them their deep blue, purple, or red color. This antioxidant can reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and enhance cellular communication.
Larger scale research into this effect is planned, but these initial results are encouraging. Since blueberries are widely enjoyed, it can be easy to incorporate them into your clients’ food plans. Fresh or frozen are ideal, while powders can also, as proven by these studies, be effective. These types of plants have been in the human diet for centuries, and may offer an explanation to the low incidence of cognitive decline in native and indigenous populations. Since anthocyanins are present in many deeply colored fruits and vegetables, it’s unclear if this particular effect is exclusive to blueberries or if it extends to other colorful foods.