Blueberry lovers rejoice! That could well be the title of a new study coming from the UK this year which is actually titled “Enhanced task-related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation.” If you can get past the rambling headline, the research actually contains an exciting breakthrough: blueberries do a lot more for brain health than most people could have imagined. 1
Blueberries May Reverse Mental Decline
Dr. Joanna Bowtell, the study’s lead researcher and head of Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, set out with a hunch. She knew that older adults with plant-rich diets tended to suffer less cognitive decline than their peers. Dr. Bowtell was also aware that blueberries, more so than any other plant, are rich in flavonoids – compounds that give blueberries their colors and contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.
Like any good scientist, she wondered whether she could prove a connection between two variables, in this case cognitive function and blueberry consumption. Antioxidants were already known to reduce inflammation and repair cells, but no one had looked specifically at whether a blueberry heavy diet could improve brain health.
To find out, Dr. Bowtell and her team recruited 26 healthy adults between the ages of 65 and 77. Over the course of three months, half the participants were given 30 ml of blueberry juice concentrate (equivalent to 230 grams of blueberries) daily and half were given a placebo. Participants received a battery of cognitive tests while undergoing MRI scanning before and after their three-month trial.
The results were fascinating. The group who went on the blueberry diet showed remarkable increases in brain activity while undergoing cognitive testing. Among those who consumed the daily 30ml of blueberry juice concentrate, “brain blood flow, brain activation, and some aspects of working memory were improved,” said Dr. Bowtell. 2
How Blueberries Awaken Your Brain
The key to blueberries’ power is in the flavonoids. These compounds work through a number of processes:
- Anthocyanins, the type of flavonoid found in blueberries are known to have vasoactive properties. 3 This means that they dilate blood capillaries and improve circulation, especially in the brain.
- Lower glucose levels and improved mood were both thought to be the result of anthocyanins enhancing glucose disposal throughout the body. 4 Lower levels of insulin in the brain reduce inflammation and enhance signaling in memory centers.
- Flavonoids also have a healing effect that regenerates the nerves responsible for carrying electrical signals in the brain. 5 Healing these nerves leads to improved communication between brain cells, which means stronger cognition.
- Antioxidants, which are found in all flavonoids but especially anthocyanins, combat free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules created during the metabolism process). 6 A buildup of free radicals cause oxidative stress on your heart, brain, and musculature.
Here's How Much To Eat Daily
Assuming you want to do right by your brain, you’re probably wondering just how you can maximize your intake of flavonoids. The most obvious answer (eat more blueberries!) might not be the easiest. The amount in the study, 230 grams, is nearly two cups worth. As a staple of your daily diet, two cups could get excessive.
Blueberry juice concentrate, mixed with water, is another delicious and easy way to get your daily dose of flavonoids and anthocyanins. But my favorite is to add blueberries to my morning oatmeal or have it as a snack between meals.