Promoting Brain Health: Food (Blueberries, Strawberries, Spinach) for Thought

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Needless to say, having had several relatives on my mother’s side of the family suffer from dementia has made me more cognizant of the possibility that this devastating disease is in my genetic future. And serving as caregiver to my mother who died in 2007 from Alzheimer’s and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease made me even more committed to being proactive in my lifestyle choices. Therefore, I was very interested in the research posted under the title “Nutrition and Brian Function” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

    The webpage notes that serious deficiencies in key nutrients and chemical compounds, such as vitamin B12 and iron, can impair cognitive function. This has prompted researchers to study how certain plant compounds that we eat can have an impact on brain function. According to Dr. James Joseph, a neuroscientist with ARS, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains have compounds that significantly contribute to the antioxidants that we eat. Joseph noted that a score marking the partial measure of the antioxidant effect – the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) – is starting to appear on charts and some food and beverage packages.

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    Stopping Age-Related Cognitive Losses

    Dr. Joseph has conducted numerous studies that have shown the protective effect of consuming certain antioxidants. One of his first studies fed rats from adulthood to middle age a similar ORAC-value diet of vitamin E, strawberry extracts, or spinach extracts. Rats that received the high-antioxidant diets didn’t experience the age-related cognitive losses that were seen in a control group of rats that were fed a standard diet.

    In a later ARS study, rats that were equivalent in age to 64-year-old humans were fed a high-antioxidant extract and were  compared to a control group that were fed standard food. After eight weeks (the equivalent of 10 years in humans), the groups’ performance levels were measured. The rats that were fed spinach, strawberry or blueberry extracts were able to reverse age-related deficits in both neuronal and cognitive function. Additionally, the rats that were fed blueberries outperformed their peers in a test of balance and coordination. An examination of that group of rats showed higher levels of dopamine, which affects the way the brain controls movements.

    Blueberries and Alzheimer's

        In another study, researchers followed mice that had a genetic mutation for promoting increased amounts of amyloid beta, which is seen in Alzheimer’s disease.  The researchers started feeding one group of mice, beginning at four months of age (early adulthood), a diet that included blueberry extract for eight months. The other group was fed standard diet, as was a control group of mice that did not have the mutation. The three groups were tested for performance when they were 12 months (which is early middle age). The researchers found that the mice that had brain plaques that were fed blueberry extract performed as well as the healthy control group and much better than the group that had brain plaques and had eaten a standard diet. Researchers reviewed the brains of the two groups that had brain plaques after death; their analysis found that there was no difference in the number of brain plaques in either group.  The scientists did find increased activity by kinases, a family of enzymes which are important in cognitive function, such as converting short-term memories into long-term memories.

  • Although there have not been any human clinical trials yet, the information above has prompted me to add produce high in antioxidants to my shopping cart. I also called my father, who has suffered from some issues with balance, and suggested that he consider adding blueberries regularly to his diet. I plan to check out both the fresh produce aisles as well as the frozen food section to find the best deals, but I believe the best deal may be the mental boost my brain gets from regularly adding these foods

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Published On: March 01, 2010