Already known for their potential to decrease the risk of heart disease and cancer, a new study finds that blueberries could help improve memory and cognitive function as well.
It’s like this: You can eat processed junk food that acts as a deterrent to health or you can eat wholesome things that actually fix your body. Study after study shows the benefits of eating nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, the latest finding that blueberries could be a weapon in the battle against Alzheimer's disease.
As it stands now some 5.3 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer's disease, a number that is expected to grow as the population ages – by 2025, the number of people in the United States with Alzheimer's could increase by 40 percent to more than 7 million, and it could almost triple by 2050, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Which means that a lot of research is being done in the name of slowing down the degenerative disorder. (We humans like our brains, and with good reason!) The latest comes from Dr. Robert Krikorian and his team of colleagues from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center who conducted two human studies to follow up on earlier clinical trials.
Blueberries already have superstar status in health and food circles for studies showing their potential to lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, most believe that the fruit’s antioxidants are to thank for its salubrious ways. And it’s these very substances that are thought to be behind blueberries’ potential for helping to prevent the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s.
"Our new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults," says Krikorian, also confirming that the benefits could be due to flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve animals' cognition.
In the more impressive of the two studies included 47 adults of 68 years or older who had mild cognitive impairment, which is a risk condition for Alzheimer's. The participants consumed daily either freeze-dried blueberry powder (equal to a cup of blueberries) or a placebo for 16 weeks.
"There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo," Krikorian says. "The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts." Magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) confirmed increased brain activity in those who were given the blueberry powder.
The second study involved 94 people aged 62 to 80 who didn't have objectively measured cognitive issues like the first group, but who reported that their memories were declining. These participants were given either blueberry powder, fish oil, fish oil and powder or placebo.
"The results were not as robust as with the first study," Krikorian says. "Cognition was somewhat better for those with powder or fish oil separately, but there was little improvement with memory." He adds that the effect may have been smaller here because these participants had less severe issues when they entered the study.
Krikorian concluded that the studies suggest that blueberries may be more effective in treating patients with cognitive impairments, but “may not show measurable benefit for those with minor memory issues or who have not yet developed cognitive problems.” But still, the results are there.
More research will be done with younger participants who have risk factors for developing Alzheimer's – like obesity, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol – to see if blueberries might be effective against onset of Alzheimer's.
The research, which is being presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, included funding from the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council and Wild Blueberries of North America, among other groups. And while this might raise a red flag for anyone who questions industry-backed research, the studies on blueberries have been pretty significant across the board so far. Worse-case scenario, blueberries are really good for you.