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Baskets of fresh blueberries and strawberries. Link to photo information
New research findings suggest adding blueberries and strawberries to the diet may help slow the decline in learning and motor skills that often occurs with aging. Click the image for more information about it.

Food for Thought: Berries Boost Brain Power

By Rosalie Marion Bliss
August 23, 2006

As 77 million baby boomers face retirement, many are reaching for foods high in antioxidants, hoping to slow the diminished function that often occurs with aging. New findings reported by Agricultural Research Service (ARS)-funded scientists suggest they may be on the right track.

Laboratory animals that were fed berry extracts—and then treated to accelerate the aging process—were protected from damage to brain function, the researchers report. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.

Psychologist Barbara Shukitt-Hale, neuroscientist James Joseph and psychologist Amanda Carey of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston conducted the research in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. The study, which has been published online, will also appear in an upcoming print issue of Neurobiology of Aging.

Three groups—20 rats in each—were studied for about three months. The control group was fed a standard diet of grain-based chow. A second group was fed chow with blueberry extract equal to one cup daily in humans. A third group was fed chow with strawberry extract equal to one pint daily in humans. After two months on the diets, half of the rats in each group were treated to induce the normal losses in learning and motor skills that often come with aging.

Compared to the aged control rats, the aged-but-supplemented rats were much better able to find—and in some cases remember—the location of an underwater platform.

In addition, the aged control rats had lower levels of dopamine release than the nonaged control rats. But these decreases in dopamine release were not seen in the strawberry- and blueberry-supplemented groups, whether aged or not.

The new findings add to a lineup of research studies published during the past eight years showing reduced, or in some cases reversed, declines in brain function among rats whose diets were supplemented with either blueberry, cranberry or strawberry extracts or Concord grape juice.