Blueberries, already labeled a so-called super fruit for their power to potentially lower the risk of heart disease and cancer, may also fight against Alzheimer's disease. That’s according to new research presented this week at the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
The new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults.
Researchers at University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center conducted two human studies to follow up on earlier clinical trials.
Blueberry-rich diet improves memory in adults with cognitive impairement
One study involved 47 adults aged 68 and older, who had mild cognitive impairment, a condition that increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The researchers gave them either freeze-dried blueberry powder, equivalent to one cup of berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks.
The findings showed improvement in cognitive performance, memory and brain function in participants who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo. The team also conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which showed increased brain activity in those who consumed the blueberry powder.
The second study included 94 people aged 62 to 80, who were divided into four groups. The participants didn't have objectively measured cognitive issues, but they subjectively reported their memories were declining. The groups received blueberry powder, fish oil, fish oil and powder or placebo.
Although the results were not as strong as with the first study, cognition was somewhat better for those with blueberry powder or fish oil separately, but there was little improvement with memory. Also, fMRI results also were not as striking for those receiving blueberry powder.
The researchers noted that the effect may have been smaller in this case because these participants had less severe issues when they entered the study. They said the two studies indicate that blueberries may be more effective in treating patients with cognitive impairments, but may not show measurable benefit for those with minor memory issues or who have not yet developed cognitive problems.
Blueberry antioxidants called anthocyanins thought to play a role
Blueberries are loaded with healthful antioxidants, substances that could help prevent the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease. Blueberries' beneficial effects could be due to flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve animals' cognition.
In the future, the team plans to conduct a blueberry study with a younger group of people, aged 50 to 65. The group would include people at risk of developing Alzheimer's, such as those who are obese, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This work could help the researchers determine if blueberries could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's symptoms.
Source: American Chemical Society, March 2016.
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