June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.
For years I’ve heard that blueberries are good for brain health. Which is great, because I love blueberries and try to work them into my diet several times a week.
And there is some evidence to support the connection between blueberries and the human brain.
Most blueberry studies to date have been performed on animals, but more recent studies—funded in part by the National Institute on Aging and the blueberry industry—used human subjects.
One study used adults over the age of 68. Half ate the equivalent of 1 cup of blueberries daily for 16 weeks. The other half had a placebo. (Both were in powder form.)
At the end of the study
“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo,” [reported lead researcher Robert] Krikorian, [PhD, University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, in Ohio.]
“In addition, we found that the blueberry-supplemented subjects showed increased activation in certain regions of the left hemisphere of the brain, and that did not occur with placebo-powder subjects,” he said.
The second study lasted 24 weeks, and divided the subjects (ages 62 to 80) into four groups: blueberry powder, fish oil, blueberry powder plus fish oil (um, yuck), or placebo.
The results weren’t as significant, unfortunately, but Dr. Krikorian theorized that was because the adults in this study weren’t as cognitively impaired to begin with. But,
“The other interesting result was that the blueberry-supplemented participants felt they were performing better in their everyday lives. They had a better sense of well-being and were making fewer memory mistakes and were less inefficient than they had been relative to those that received the placebo powder,” he noted.
Of course, these are very small studies, and food research is always difficult to interpret because food is not made up of just one chemical. It’s the anthocyanins (a type of flavonoid) in blueberries that is thought to be so beneficial, but there could be other properties of the blueberries that help, too.
And there are so many other variables in these studies, such as what other foods the subjects ate/drank, how much they exercised, their personal and family health histories, etc.
Still, other than the cost, adding blueberries to your diet doesn’t really have any downside.
And June is also a great month to find fresh blueberries in grocery stores and farmers markets (or pick your own).
Related post: Find a Farmers Market in your area
Bottom line: The best way to keep our brains healthy as we age is a combination of a nutritious, calorie-appropriate diet, moderate exercise, and healthy mental stimulation through socializing and learning new activities.