Blueberries May Restore
Some Memory, Coordination and Balance Lost with Age
By Judy McBride
September 10, 1999
WASHINGTON, Sept. 10--A
diet rich in blueberry extract reversed some loss of balance and coordination
and improved short-term memory in aging rats, according to a
USDA study to be published in the Sept. 15
issue of the Journal of
If this finding holds for humans, it should further encourage
consumption of fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants to help fight the
effects of aging, said Agriculture Secretary
Daily for eight weeks, researchers fed extracts of blueberry, strawberry or
spinach to 19 month-old rats, age-equivalent to 65 or 70 year-old humans. All
three extracts improved short-term memory. Only the blueberry extract improved
balance and coordination.
This is the first study that shows fruits and vegetables actually reversing
dysfunctions in behavior and in nerve cells. Earlier, the same researchers, led
by neuroscientist James A. Joseph of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging
at Tufts University in Boston, reported that high-antioxidant fruits and
vegetables prevented some loss of function in aging rats.
Blueberries, strawberries, and spinach test high in their ability to subdue
oxygen free radicals. These oxygen radicals, which can damage cell membranes,
DNA and other delicate internal machinery, are blamed for many of the
dysfunctions and diseases associated with aging.
Motor behavior is one of the first things to go as you age, said
Joseph. The improvements we saw in coordination and balance are really
significant. In other studies, little else has reversed these deficits in motor
A decline in motor skills starts at about 12 months for rats. By 19 months,
the length of time rats can walk a narrow rod before losing balance normally
drops from 13 to 5 seconds. After eating blueberry extract, the rats stayed on
the rod for 11 seconds, on average.
Joseph and psychologist Barbara Shukitt-Hale were joined in the study by
Natalia Denisova, Donna Bielinski, Antonio Martin and John McEwen, all at the
USDA center in Boston, and Paula Bickford at the
Department of Veterans Affairs
Medical Center in Denver.
Scientific contact: James A. Joseph
Shukitt-Hale, USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts
University, phone (617) 556-3178 [Joseph], (617) 556-3118, [Shukitt-Hale],