I make a point of supporting students with a passion for nutrition. From time to time, I’ll feature student guest posts. This post is written by Olivia Lovrics, a student at the University of Guelph studying Biomedical Sciences and Nutritional Sciences. She loves everything about food, including learning about it and eating it!
Ads for anti-aging products and brain-boosting supplements are ubiquitous; the information can often be contradictory, misleading and overwhelming… and appealing. Before you are tempted to buy expensive supplements, consider buying a pint of local blueberries instead.
These little blue berries may actually help prevent age-related declines in brain functioning.
Blueberry supplementation in humans has shown to increase verbal memory performance, list recall and paired associate learning. A large observational human study of 16,000 older women found that brain aging in berry eaters (those who ate blueberries and other bright berries at least once a week for 20 years) was delayed by up to 2.5 years, compared to those who rarely ate berries.
What’s the link between berries and brain health?
Berries are rich sources of antioxidants. Brightly coloured berries like blueberries, have the highest level of the main antioxidant, a flavanoid called anthocyanin.
Antioxidants act throughout the body, but are especially helpful in the brain, where recent studies have suggested that antioxidants may slow the onset of dementia and provide protection against strokes. They can also lower inflammation and improve neuroprotective stress/shock proteins and neuroplasticity (involved in learning).
The term "antioxidant" is often thrown around in popular media - but what does it really mean? Antioxidants are molecules that neutralize free radicals that cause stress and damage to the body. Consuming moderate levels of antioxidants can help your body fight the stresses it encounters.
Balance is key. Just because some is good, doesn't always mean more is better.
This is the case with antioxidants. While consuming levels found naturally in foods, such as berries, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, is shown to have beneficial effects, the levels of antioxidants found in many supplements may do more harm than good (or may do nothing at all).
So what does all this mean?
Skip anti-aging supplements. Eat a cup of berries every day as part of an overall healthy diet. Not only might they boost your brain health, but they are also low in calories and high in fibre. And they taste great!
Fresh or frozen, layered in a breakfast parfait with cottage cheese or Greek yogurt, sprinkled on peanut butter toast, added to a spinach salad for lunch, or blended into a blueberry glaze for salmon at dinner, it's easy to get the brain-benefits of blueberries at any meal.
Shannon & Olivia
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Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B and Willis LM. Grape juice, berries and walnuts affect brain aging and behaviour. J Nutr. 2009 Jul;139(8):18135-18175.
Omen GS et al. Effects of a combination of beta-carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1996(334):1150-55.
Shukitt-Hale B, Lau FC, Joseph JA. Berry fruit supplementation and the aging brain. Agric Food Chem. 2008:56(3);636-641.
"The berry bonus: research suggests a daily dish of colourful berries can slow brain aging." Mind, Mood & Memory 8.7(2012):6. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 June 2016.