A daily helping of blueberries could help to reverse cognitive decline in elderly people, a new study has found. Scientists from the University of North Carolina in the US looked into the benefits of the so-called superfood on individuals who already had symptoms of cognitive problems.
The research analysed data from 86 people between the ages of 65 and 80, all of whom had issues with their cognition. A further 43 individuals in the same age demographic without cognitive decline served as a control group.
They were then split into two groups, with one given wild blueberry powder to add to their diets and the other handed a placebo. The study used blueberries grown in the harsh environment of Maine, which are known to be a strong source of phytochemicals.
Dr Mary Ann Lila, one of the study’s authors, said: “Phytochemicals are compounds in plants that develop to defend the plant from environmental stress, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Once consumed by humans, they transfer these health benefits to us.
“The research study conducted here at the NRI [Nutrition Research Institute] shows that the phytochemicals specific to the wild blueberry are important for brain health.”
After mixing the powder into their food each day, the study’s participants had their cognitive health screened again six months later. What the researchers found was that those who’d eaten the blueberries had improved their mental processing speed greatly.
The effects showed recovery to the point that those in cognitive decline caught up on average with those without brain issues. Measuring processing speed is a good indicator of overall brain health, as it demonstrates how well information is being stored and recalled.
Despite scientists all over the world working on ways to overcome dementia, there’s currently no cure. There’s also a lack of reliable treatments, with those used to slow down the progression of the disease not as effective as it might be hoped.
A healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways that individuals can reduce their dementia risk and eating blueberries could be part of the solution. It’s long been known they have a high concentration of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, leading to them being dubbed a superfood.
The study was relatively small, so further research is required, but it could provide the basis for an interesting discovery. As there aren’t downsides to adding more blueberries to an elderly person’s diet, it’s a step that could be worth taking.
Other similarly-coloured fruit, like purple grapes or blackberries, could have a related impact on reversing cognitive decline. Blueberries can be added to smoothies as an easy way to incorporate them into the diet every day and even small amounts may prove beneficial.