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January 29, 2010

Blueberry juice enhances memory in older adults

Blueberry juice enhances memory in older adults

In an article published online on January 4, 2010 in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Robert Krikorian of the University of Cincinnati, along with his colleagues from the US and Canadian Departments of Agriculture, report that consuming blueberry juice was associated with improvements in learning and memory in individuals with age-related memory decline.

The trial enrolled five men and four women over the age of 70 who reported forgetfulness and memory lapses characteristic of early memory decline. Participants were given the equivalent of 2 to 2 ½ cups of a commercially available blueberry juice daily for 12 weeks. Cognitive assessments were conducted at the beginning of the study and during the final week of the trial.

At the study's conclusion, learning and recall were improved, and depressive symptoms and glucose levels tended to be reduced. When subjects who received blueberry juice were compared with a demographically matched sample who received a placebo beverage in a companion trial, test scores for learning ability were significantly better.

Enhanced signaling and neuroprotection have been demonstrated in association with blueberry supplementation in animal studies, and phenolic compounds known as anthocyanins that occur in blueberries have been found in regions of the brain that are essential for cognitive function. Anthocyanins have insulin-like properties that improve metabolic function, which, when disturbed, appears to be a factor in neurodegeneration as well as cardiovascular diseases.

"To our knowledge, this is the first human trial assessing the potential benefit of blueberry supplementation on neurocognitive function in older adults with increased risk for dementia," the authors announce. "Although the sample size was relatively small, effect sizes were moderate to large for both the primary and secondary analyses."

"These preliminary memory findings are encouraging and suggest that consistent supplementation with blueberries may offer an approach to forestall or mitigate neurodegeneration," they conclude. "This initial study establishes a basis for further human research of blueberry supplementation as a preventive intervention with respect to cognitive aging."

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Health Concern Life Extension Highlight

Mild cognitive impairment

It is estimated that up to one third of adults will experience a gradual decline in cognitive function known as mild cognitive impairment as they age (Low LF et al 2004; Busse A et al 2003). Less severe than dementia, mild cognitive impairment is defined as cognitive defects that do not interfere with daily living. It may include slower thinking, a reduced ability to learn, and impaired memory. While many conventional physicians view these defects as an inevitable consequence of aging, newer research has uncovered possible reasons for mild cognitive impairment and has also identified potential therapies that may enable people to battle age-related mental decline more effectively than ever before. Minimizing cognitive defects will become even more important as the average life span continues to lengthen and hundreds of thousands of people head into their 80s and 90s, when the risk for cognitive decline is greatest.

Researchers have discovered multiple factors that influence our ability to think and remember as we age. These include well-known culprits such as alcohol abuse, and also newly discovered causes of mental decline, including chronic inflammation, vascular diseases, and even stress. Atherosclerosis that occurs in the arteries serving the brain (cerebrovascular disease) can reduce blood flow to the aging brain and increase the risk of stroke. The decreased blood flow can cause nerve cells in the brain to be lost prematurely. Consequently, mental function may decline.

Numerous studies have shown that fruit extracts, which are rich in polyphenols, have the ability to reverse and slow age-related brain deterioration. Among these, blueberry extract seems especially effective. One study of rats with beta-amyloid plaques showed that blueberry extract helped improve their performance in a maze, leading the authors to state, “Our data indicate for the first time that it may be possible to overcome genetic predispositions to Alzheimer's disease through diet” (Joseph JA et al 2003). An earlier study by the same research team looked at blueberry extract’s ability to suppress oxidative stress in the brain, which is linked to numerous age-related cognitive problems. The study found that blueberry extracts in particular were powerful neural antioxidants (Joseph JA et al 2000). These findings have been supported in more recent studies examining blueberries’ role as antioxidants (Lau FC et al 2005; Andres-Laceuva C et al 2005).

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