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A Magical Memory Booster

Blueberries -- in pies, pancakes and muffins -- take me right back to my childhood summer vacations at the beach. Or, based on the latest research I’ve seen on this super-food, it may actually be that eating all those blueberries sharpened my cognitive abilities, making their deliciousness all the more memorable!

Perhaps the connection is not quite so direct, but I just read a study reporting that blueberries have a profound effect on human brain function. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center asked nine older adults (mean age 76 years) who were experiencing early-stage memory decline to drink blueberry juice three times a day for 12 weeks. The amount they drank was adjusted for their weight and ranged from about 15 to 20 ounces per day. Results (based on tests performed at the beginning and end of the study) showed that participants’ memory function significantly improved, and there was also a slight trend toward reduced depressive symptoms and better blood sugar control.

Antidote to Poor Dietary Habits

When I spoke with study author Robert Krikorian, PhD, he told me that the polyphenols in blueberries may somehow correct abnormalities in our brains that result from our nutritionally weak Western diet. His guess is that if we ate more whole, nutritious food and less artificial and processed food, we might not need the brain boost that blueberries give -- but, since few people eat so well, almost everyone, including older adults with good cognitive functioning, would benefit from eating blueberries regularly.

An all-natural juice with no additives (the expensive kind you find in quality health-food stores) was used in the study, but Dr. Krikorian told me that you get the same benefits by eating somewhere between a half cup and a cup of whole blueberries each day. Though fresh ones are easy to find at farmer’s markets at this time of year, the most nutritious blueberries are actually to be found in the freezer section of your supermarket, Dr. Krikorian told me. Regular readers probably already know this is because nutrients get locked in when the berries are frozen at the very height of ripeness.

Dr. Krikorian said that blueberries aren’t the only fruit with memory-boosting polyphenols -- they’re also in other berries and grapes and even fruits (such as cranberries) and vegetables (including artichokes, parsley and Brussels sprouts) that do not have the distinctive blue/purple color. But I love the thought that all those mornings spent making blueberry-everything with mom not only built memories but actually made me smarter, too -- so you can guess what I’ll be baking with my own daughters come Saturday morning.

Robert Krikorian, PhD, is an associate professor of clinical psychology, University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, Ohio.



May 28, 2010

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