Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits — I’ve bought so many, the blueberry growers of the world owe me a vote of thanks. But my personal taste aside, blueberries are well known as a rich source of antioxidants and powerful anti-inflammatory compounds.
Much of the research has focused on their cardiovascular benefits, but now their benefits for brain chemistry have become an exciting new area to investigate. It appears blueberries can potentially improve learning, memory and recall, and reverse age-related mental decline.
Get a 20% boost in memory and concentration
British researchers gave volunteers aged 18 – 30, and over 65, a morning smoothie made up of 200 grams of blueberries or an alternative drink. They found that 5 hours later concentration and memory were maintained in the blueberry group but fell 15 – 20% in those not drinking the smoothie.
A U.S. study tested volunteers over 70 who had experienced forgetfulness and memory lapses. They drank either a pint a day of wild blueberry juice or grape juice. After 12 weeks the blueberry group saw word association tasks improve by up to 40% and ability to memorize lists improve by 33%. They performed much better than the grape juice group.
Lead researcher Robert Krikorian said the blueberry group showed “improved performance on memory. They learned more effectively and were better able to recall what they learned.”
Could these findings hold true in the workplace, boosting employees’ productivity? The Food Hospital, a Channel 4 television program aired in the UK, set about finding out.
They tested whether the efficiency of the sales team of a busy media agency could be improved by drinking a blueberry smoothie for a week compared to drinking a banana smoothie for a week. Their findings showed significant improvement in mental tasks and productivity only with blueberries.
CEO Greg Isbister was astonished:
“The results were quite surprising. I wasn’t expecting such an obvious shift.”
Daniel A. Nadeau, MD., former Assistant Professor of Medicine at Tufts Medical School in Boston, needs no further convincing: “I encourage patients to start their day with a blueberry smoothie.”
If you want to keep your brain in top shape, it might be a good idea to take his advice.
It’s the blue color that works these wonders
These benefits come courtesy of the blueberry’s vast array of phytochemicals that not only act as antioxidants, mopping up cell damaging free radicals, but also protect against inflammation. Oxidative stress and inflammation are both thought to be important causes of impaired cognitive function.
In particular, blueberries contain a group of phytochemicals called anthocyanins that give the fruit its deep blue color. Researchers believe these are responsible for many of the reported benefits of blueberries. Anthocyanins are able to cross the blood-brain barrier into an area of the brain called the hippocampus – where learning and memory functions take place.
Findings from laboratory research and rodent models suggest that regular consumption of blueberries can improve oxygen and blood flow to the brain, increasing its activity. It can reduce the buildup of toxic compounds and keep the mind fresh. It can enhance connections between nerve cells, improving their ability to communicate and stimulate brain cell regeneration.
Picking the best blueberries
Blueberries can be expensive, especially in the off-season, but considering the benefits (and how good they taste), they’re worth it. Unfortunately, berries of all kinds tend to have the highest levels of pesticide residue you’ll find anywhere — if they’re grown the conventional way.
For this reason, I’ve reluctantly given up conventional berries and buy only organic. If you insist on organic you’ll also find the berrries aren’t as widely available, but stores have gotten really good in recent years about carrying organic produce — especially blueberries. So this isn’t too much of a problem.
During the winter months, blueberries come mainly from Chile and Argentina, including organic berries which those countries now seem to produce in great quantities. To be honest, I like the winter blueberries better because the varieties they grow in South America are plumper and tastier. But this past year, during the spring and summer months I noticed the South American varieties (or similar) are now being grown in the United States as well. Apparently the word got out.