Blueberries and the brain
We’ve seen dementia and Alzheimer’s disease hit the headlines this week with David Cameron gathering G8 leaders to discuss how best to manage this growing health threat, and Jeremy Hunt leading a summit to discuss the challenges associated with diagnosis, treatment and support for sufferers. These are complex conditions but it is acknowledged that diet and lifestyle can have some impact on the rate of development. So what should you eat? That’s too big a question to answer in one short blog article but we thought we’d highlight a couple of foods that can have an impact on brain function – blueberries and cocoa.
Blueberries are often referred to as a ‘superfood’ due to their high levels of antioxidants – chemicals important in protecting your body from the cellular damage that can arise from daily life. Academic research now suggests that blueberries may have an effect on our cognitive behavior and in particular may help improve memory. Studies have shown that supplementation of flavonoids (an important chemical in blueberries) over a 6-week period improved spatial memory. This was displayed in an increase in a specific brain chemical that is important in enhancing memory.
Polyphenolic compounds found in berry fruits may also be able to lower oxidative stress (a natural process that occurs due to energy production and other normal functions in your body) and alter the signaling involved in neural communication which may in turn protect against age related cognitive defects. All berry fruits from blackberries to strawberries are rich in flavonoids, healthcare academics are interested in their ability to protect vulnerable neurons and enhance the function of existing neuronal structures in the brain. The flavonals in cocoa (used to make chocolate) have also been found to improve brain function during several cognitive tasks with healthy, young people. The flavonals were shown to improve the cerebral blood flow to the grey matter, which may have a positive effect on dementia and stroke patients.