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Scientists Say… Berries are Berry Good for Your Brain

Berries Support Brain Health

We’ve all heard that blueberries, strawberries, acai berries, bilberries and others are high in antioxidants. Now we have the first evidence of how berries help protect against brain aging.

In a study recently presented at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Boston, presenter Shibu Poulose, PhD explained that berries contain polyphenols that help recycle toxic proteins that are linked to age-related memory loss and cognitive decline.

Previous research suggested that one factor involved in aging is a steady decline in the body’s ability to protect itself against inflammation and oxidative damage. This leaves people vulnerable to degenerative brain diseases, heart disease, cancer and other age-related disorders.

But the polyphenols in fruits, vegetables and nuts—particularly walnuts—exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that help protect against age-related decline. The new research focused on a process called autophagy, in which cells called microglia remove and recycle biochemical debris that would otherwise get in the way of brain function. Using cultures of animal brain cells, the researchers found that berry extracts inhibited the action of a protein that shuts down the autophagy process.

“In aging, microglia fail to do their work, and debris builds up,” Poulose explained. “In addition, the microglia become over-activated and actually begin to damage healthy cells in the brain. Our research suggests that the polyphenolics in berries have a rescuing effect. They seem to restore the normal housekeeping function. These findings are the first to show these effects of berries.”

Why should you take a berry extract supplement?

It would be wonderful if we could obtain all our vitamins and minerals from food. But the downside about eating berries for antioxidant protection is that you’d have to eat a variety of at least 1/2-cup of berries everyday to reap the full range of benefits—which would mean adding about $200 per month to your grocery bill. Since berries are in season during the summer it becomes even more expensive during the winter, if you are able to find them at all. (And don’t forget that it’s always best to eat fruit that is locally grown and in season.)

Even though berries contain plenty of polphenols—some of which have been shown to support healthy blood glucose levels—if you eat too much of any fruit, even berries, you will release too much sugar in your system that will cause insulin levels to rise … which can result in insulin resistance, syndrome X or diabetes II.

References

  1. Poulose, S, Joseph, J. “Eating berries may activate the brain’s natural housekeeper for healthy aging.” Presented at the Aug, 23, 2010 meeting of the American Chemical Society.

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