If you knew there was a food you could add to your diet proven to fight the effects of aging and dementia, you’d probably eat it, wouldn’t you? Well, get to your local farmer’s market now because blueberries are the wonder food of the future. Blueberries fight off the harmful effects of free radicals, keep blood vessels clear of plaque, and give us a boost from plant-based chemicals. The two most common types of dementia that affect older Americans, Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, may be helped by the same types of foods that help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and prevents and manages diabetes. Blueberries are good for our health because they contain antioxidants that help protect our bodies from disease and age-related health issues. These little blue power houses are also getting a reputation for being a brain food that can help improve cognitive function and memory. As far back as 1999 researchers found that giving blueberries to older rats helped them navigate through mazes more efficiently. It was around 2010 that studies began to surface showing the efficacy of blueberries for the human brain. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org says, “It didn’t stop the disease; it didn’t reverse the disease. But it slowed the progression.” One of the longest running studies by the Nurses’ Health Study followed more than 16,000 women aged 70 and older and showed women who ate more berries slowed down their rates of mental decline. According to Dr. Greger, “The magnitude of the association was pretty impressive. Women with a higher intake of berries appeared to have delayed cognitive aging by 2.5 years. So, it’s like your brain is 2.5 years younger if you’re eating berries.” MRI imaging shows the difference in brain function as people eat blueberries due to the polyphenol phytonutrients. The antioxidants in these berries can cross the blood brain barrier. Other foods of the same color can actually do the same thing. Red cabbage, pomegranates and grape juice are also beneficial for your brain. When it comes to fighting aging and having a healthier body, the more whole plant foods in your diet, the better. Berries not only fight free radicals; they also combat cholesterol and have the fiber we need to keep our digestive systems running smoothly. But it will take more than eating the standard American diet and just adding some berries in. Blueberries are not a magic bullet but part of an arsenal of foods that we should be eating for better brain health. Several foods can be added to your diet to have an effect on your cognitive abilities and keep your brain sharp for as long as possible. Polyphenols have been shown to protect your neurons against injury caused by neurotoxins and inflammation and aids in memory, learning and cognitive function. Flavanols, found in fruit, cocoa, wine, tea and beans are also associated with better cognitive functioning. Blueberries have a high number of vitamins that boost brain health, specifically flavonoids. Consuming blueberries every day has been proven to slow memory decline and help motor coordination typically associated with aging. You can eat them fresh, frozen, canned or juiced to deliver the following brain benefits.
- Lowers your risk of dementia. It’s normal for cognitive function to decline as we age but we can preserve it for longer when we eat a diet rich in plant-based foods like blueberries. Recent studies have found that older adults who drank blueberry juice had a significant increase in brain activity, blood flow and memory compared to a group that did not.
- Reduces the Effects of Alzheimer’s. Antioxidants found in blueberries provide a benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in adults to potentially prevent Alzheimer’s disease. A 2016 study found that blueberries can treat patients who already show signs of mental impairment.
- Prevents memory loss related to age. Berries such as blueberries can help protect the brain from free radicals. A 2012 study found that berries change the way the neurons in the brain communicate and prevented inflammation to improve motor control and cognition.
- Boost your Brain. Adding blueberries can increase the birthrate of braincells in the hippocampus–the region of the brain responsible for memory. In a 2002 study older rats were fed blueberry supplements and experienced improved memory via the hippocampus.
- Improves memory and concentration. Eating a bowl of blueberries can improve memory and concentration for up to five hours. A 2009 study found participants who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did better on tasks in the mid-afternoon compared to those who didn’t. Researchers believe blueberries stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain keeping the mind active and healthy.
- Boosts mental health. Blueberries can help those suffering from depression. In a 2016 study, scientists found that blueberries reduce the genetic and biochemical factors behind depression and suicidal tendencies linked to PTSD.