Are you what you eat?
When it comes to your brain, the answer is a resounding yes.
One brain-friendly food to add to your shopping list: blueberries.
In episode 139, Dr. Robert Krikorian, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Director of the Division of Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, talks to Jesse about why you should eat blueberries to improve memory.
The Benefits of Blueberries
There’s been plenty of talk in the media about how blueberries are the new superfood. We’re always hesitant to buy into this kind of hype (remember how margarine used to be “healthy” and eggs were horrible for you?). But in the case of blueberries, the science backs up the hype.
Blueberries improve long-term memory (retention of information over time), access to words and concepts (crucial for dementia or Alzheimer’s sufferers), and short-term memory (aka working memory).
They reverse loss of balance and coordination in older rats.
The benefits aren’t confined to older people, though. One study found that blueberry juice improved memory and concentration in children.
And if you’re worried about consuming too much sugar from fruit, blueberries even lower blood glucose levels.
For more, check out Dr. Krikorian’s latest research on blueberries.
What’s Going On In Your Brain?
Dr. Krikorian stresses that we don’t have a thorough understanding of how blueberries are able to confer all these benefits. “A lot more work needs to be done,” he says.
However, it’s thought that the beneficial effects of blueberries is due to a certain type of flavonoid (the active compounds in blueberries) called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins help plants resist radiation from sunlight and offer a defense against bacterial and fungal infections.
These same compounds interact with our biochemistry in beneficial ways, including helping to improve glucose disposal.
Frozen, Raw, or In Muffins?
Before you nab that blueberry muffin from the coffee shop and think you’re taking care of the old noggin, think again. Not all blueberry products are created equal.
Fresh, whole blueberries are obviously ideal. Dr. Krikorian uses whole fruit in his studies because he doesn’t want to assume that one part of the fruit is what’s actively benefiting memory. But whole frozen fruit is equally good (and often cheaper – yay!), since it tends to be harvested, cleaned, and frozen in about 24 hours.
Two other forms that get the thumbs up:
- 100% pure blueberry juice (as long as there is absolutely nothing else added), although there are some changes in composition from the juicing process.
- Freeze-dried blueberry powder. Benefits: it’s easier to store and consume than juice.
Avoid juices with added sugar or that are made from concentrate, and baked or cooked blueberries, since exposure to heat degrades flavonoids.
A Blueberry a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?
There’s no standard dose of blueberry. Amounts used in research vary widely (some have used one cup of whole fruit per day, others ½ cup).
And you may not need to eat blueberries every day. Certain metabolites persist in your body long after eating the fruit. So, you may be able to get the benefits of blueberries from eating them a few times a week.
Ultimately, more research needs to be done. But in the meantime, throw a handful of blueberries on your yogurt, in your smoothies, and on your cereal.
Other Memory Boosting Foods
Blueberries don’t have a monopoly on boosting memory. Other research has found cognitive enhancement from spinach, strawberries, and grape juice.
Plenty of other blue and purple foods have high levels of anthocyanins, like blackberries, grapes, red cabbage, and eggplant.
PS: With your blueberry-powered memory boost, don’t forget to sign up for your weekly Brain Breakfast.
Blueberries and cognition
This Week in Neuroscience: Updated map of the human brain hailed as a scientific tour de force
The audience interaction section
Jesse’s embarrassing blueberry story
Intro to Dr. Robert Krikorian and his background with blueberries
The state of human and animal blueberry research
Parent compound versus leftover metabolite level effects in the body
Are powdered berries and berry juices as effective?
Frozen, fresh, cooked: does presentation matter?
How much of a cognitive effect can blueberries have?
Memory and semantic access
Acute versus chronic effects
What are flavonoids?
How many blueberries should we eat to see positive effects?
Increased blood flow
Other sources of anthocyanins
“You may be doing yourself some good and probably not any harm”
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