Blueberries are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, the natural substances that fight damage caused by free radicals. In addition to helping prevent memory loss, these versatile and delicious berries have been shown to be effective in fighting chronic degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, muscular degeneration, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The flavonoids contained in blueberries are thought to be responsible for these effects. Although it is not clear as to how flavonoids affect the brain, it has been shown that they are absorbed in the blood stream, crossing the blood/brain barrier. This enables them to influence regions involving memory and motor function. The researchers explained that it is thought to enhance neural connections, thereby improving cellular communication and stimulating neural regeneration.
Blueberries have been shown to be instrumental in protecting the brain from free radicals, radiation, inflammation, and excitotoxicity. Additionally, blueberries may reverse decline in cognitive and motor function. In addition to its anti-aging properties, blueberries are also high in Vitamin C and Vitamin E.
A recent study at the University of Cincinnati found that drinking a couple of cups of blueberry juice each day may give aging memories a boost. The study was led by Robert Krikorian, PhD and Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, and was published in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. In the study, people in their 70’s with age-related memory problems were tested for learning and memory. One group of volunteers drank 16 to 20 ounces of a commercial blueberry juice every day for two months while the control group drank a non-juice beverage.
At the end of the study, the group of volunteers who drank blueberry juice showed significant improvements on tests for learning and memory compared to the control group. The study scientists concluded that the preliminary findings were encouraging and that “consistent supplementation with blueberries might offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration.”
Previous animal studies had indicated that blueberries may help aging memories, but until the recent study, there had been little actual testing of blueberries’ effect on people. The study also indicated that blueberries are linked to lessening depression symptoms and lowering glucose levels.
Another plus is that blueberries contain a compound called pterostilbene which may be effective in lowering cholesterol. A test conducted by Dr. Agnes M. Rimando, a research chemist for the Federal Department of Agriculture in Oxford, Mississippi, found that pterostilbene activates a cell receptor that participates in lowering cholesterol and other blood fats.
An additional study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry and performed by researchers from Florida State University and Oklahoma State University found that blueberries can even be instrumental in preventing osteoporosis. This study showed that nutrients in blueberries may be responsible for preventing bones from weakening after menopause. In this study, ovaries were removed from rats in order to simulate menopause. While the control group showed bone loss, the group given blueberries retained their bone mass.
Ongoing research at Rutgers University in New Jersey has isolated other compounds called proanthocyanidins which promote urinary tract health by preventing bacteria from attaching to the urinary tract walls.
Scientists recommend consuming the whole fruit rather than just drinking the juice or taking blueberry extract capsules. The reason for this is that it is not known what part of the blueberry contains all its nutrients and antioxidants.