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Title: Berry effects on cognition and motor function in aging

item Shukitt-Hale, Barbara
item MILLER, MARSHALL G. - Tufts University

Submitted to: Berry Health Benefits Symposium
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/7/2013
Publication Date: 6/18/2013
Citation: Shukitt Hale, B., Miller, M. 2013. Berry effects on cognition and motor function in aging. Berry Health Benefits Symposium. 2013 Pre-Proceedings, p. 33.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In the last century, the lifespan of humans has almost doubled. Consequently, the percent of the population that is over the age of 65 years has markedly increased, making age-related pathologies a growing concern. Research has demonstrated, in both human and animals, that psychomotor and cognitive functioning decrease with age, even in the absence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease. The central and peripheral nervous systems are responsible for conscious control of movement, and alterations in motor function may include decreases in balance, muscle strength and coordination, while cognitive deficits are seen in processing speed, executive function, spatial learning, and memory. The cause of these functional declines is not entirely understood; however, neuronal losses and the associated changes in the activity of neurotransmitters, secondary messengers, and their receptors may be caused by long term increases in and susceptibility to oxidative stress and inflammation. One approach to improving neuronal functioning might be to alter the neuronal environment to reduce the impact of the oxidative and inflammatory stressors. Research conducted in our laboratory has shown that consumption of berry fruit, nuts, and other foods can improve cognition and mobility in aged rodents. The polyphenolic compounds found in these foods may exert their beneficial effects indirectly, through their ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation, or directly, by altering neuronal structure and signaling involved in neuronal communication. Therefore, dietary interventions may be one strategy to forestall or even reverse age-related neuronal deficits. A recent study in our laboratory established a methodology for assessing the effects of dietary interventions on age-related declines in mobility and cognition among older adults. Importantly, this study used methodology which parallels behavioral tasks employed in our rodent model. Results indicate increases in postural sway and declines in gait speed, spatial navigation, and executive function with age. These tests are currently being used in a study investigating the effects of a dietary blueberry intervention on healthy older adults (60-75 years of age). Participants in this study consume freeze-dried blueberry powder (or a placebo powder) equivalent to 1 cup of blueberries each day for 3 months and tests of cognition and coordination are administered before, during, and after the supplementation period. We hypothesize that older adults whose diet is supplemented with berries will show improvements in motor and cognitive ability similar to those previously observed in our rodent model of aging.