Berry fruits, such as blueberries, have long been touted as an original ‘superfood’. Berries are a rich source of fiber, vitamins, natural sugars, and flavonoids – the phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that help produce the rich color of fruits and vegetables. More data is emerging that underscores the anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory role of these phytochemicals in healthy brain aging. Here, we will discuss the results of a recent review article summarizing the protective role of blueberries in neurodegenerative disorders, like Alzheimer disease, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic brain injury.
Since oxidative stress and inflammation can cause damage to brain cells, it is hypothesized that increased consumption of antioxidants may be effective in preventing or reducing these pathologic changes. The brain specifically has poor defenses to protect itself against these stresses. Published in 2014 in Neural Regeneration Research, the research team led by Dr. Musthafa Essa hypothesized that the phytochemicals in blueberries, notably anthocyanins, can reduce the inflammatory stresses seen in neurodegenerative disease. The protective effects of anthocyanins rely on their ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and mitigate the harsh effects of inflammation and oxidative stress.
In animal studies using aged rats to model brain dysfunction, it was shown that an 8-week dietary supplement of blueberry extract is effective in reversing the age-related changes in cognitive behaviours and motor performance tasks. Particularly in tasks testing motor memory and object recognition, cognitive declines were effectively reversed with blueberry supplementation. Similar positive effects have been demonstrated under the microscope. The hippocampus is one of the main areas of the brain implicated in the formation and storage of memories. Amongst aged rats who received blueberry-supplemented diets, there was a greater density of healthy brain cells in the hippocampus in comparison to those who received a typical diet.