If there was a magic blue pill that would help improve your memory and protect your heart would you take it? Research is showing that this pill may exist and it is not in the synthetic gelatin capsule you may be picturing, but in the form of a perfectly plump, slate blue blueberry. These “pills” don’t cost an arm and a leg; in fact, you don’t even need insurance to afford them. They are even easy to find. Just walk into any grocery store and head to the fresh fruit section. You won’t miss them.
Perhaps you need a little bit more information before you shell out the dough for a food that actually has a shelf-life. The latest on blueberry research is proving that consuming blueberries may improve the health of your brain and heart. Before you can understand what it is about blueberries that may improve your health there are a few terms that need to be defined. First, blueberries have antioxidants. Antioxidants inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation can produce free radicals which tend to cause cellular damage in your body. Flavonoids, a class of plant compounds found in blueberries, have antioxidant activities. It is particularly the flavonoid subclass of anthocyanins that give blueberries their health benefits. Now that the terms have been defined, let’s talk about what we can gain from them.
Starting with brain benefits, blueberries may help prevent memory loss and other degenerative brain diseases. The Molecular Nutrition Group found that eating flavonoids-rich blueberries may lead to significant reversals in age-related discrepancies on spatial memory and learning. This may be linked to the flavonoids changing and improving the memory and learning processes in your brain. (1) To put it simply, the flavonoids in blueberries may make your brain run more efficiently and thus improve memory abilities!
Studies were done by the University of Houston-Clear Lake in order to establish how long one would have to eat a blueberry-enriched diet in order to see any cognitive benefits. One particular study found that, when run through an object recognition test, both rats fed a one-month and rats fed a two-month blueberry-enriched diet performed similarly and significantly better than the control group, which was fed a standard laboratory rat diet. However, the rats fed the two-month blueberry-enriched diet maintained their performance for an additional month even after being fed a standard diet, indicative that the longer one consumes a blueberry-enriched diet the longer the benefits will be maintained. In a second study, the University found that, in aging rats, even a one-month blueberry-enriched diet could significantly increase object memory scores and thus reverse memory decline. (2) So if you’re elderly and in decline or even just a college student having trouble studying for an exam, blueberries are there to help you improve!
The brain isn’t the only organ that benefits from blueberry power however. Blueberries may help reduce the risk of heart attacks too! A rat study done by the Louisiana State University of Veterinary Medicine looked at the effects of a blueberry-enriched diet on hypertension in rats. Hypertension is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated. The study found that the long-term feeding of a blueberry-enriched diet to rats lowered blood pressure and improved function in kidneys of hypertensive rats. (3) Hypertension is a risk factor for heart attacks so by lowering blood pressure the risk is lowered. Human studies done by the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Oklahoma State University found that the anthocyanin’s in blueberries have been linked with improved heart health. Using various berries and even purified anthocyanin extracts, they were able to demonstrate significant improvements in LDL oxidation (that’s the “bad” cholesterol that tends to build up on artery walls), lipid peroxidation (the oxidative degradation of fats), total plasma antioxidant capacity (yay more antioxidants), dyslipidemia (the abnormal amount of lipids in the blood), and breakdown of glucose. Not only did they see benefits in the subjects who already had existing metabolic risk factors such as being elderly, Hispanic or Asian in race, being obese, having a history of type 2 diabetes, and other diseases, but benefits were also noticeable in fit subjects as well.(4) So even in healthy people, blueberries have benefits.
With the cost of health insurance and healthcare these days, we could all stand to make a little investment in preventative care. Being preventative about health not only benefits you, it benefits our entire nation as a whole. The United States spends more on healthcare than any other nation. In fact, in 2010 we spent approximately 2.6 trillion dollars.(5) Think about all the other problems we could be spending that money on if each and every one of us took a little step in preventative care by tossing in a handful of blueberries, the first little blue pill.
1. Rendeiro, C, JD Guerreiro, CM Williams, and JP Spencer. “Flavonoids as modulators of memory and learning: molecular interactions resulting in behavioural effects..” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 71.2 (2012): 246-62. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22414320>.
2. Malin, DH, DR Lee, P Goyarzu, YH Chang, LJ Ennis, E Beckett, B Shukitt-Hale, and JA Joseph. “Short-term blueberry-enriched diet prevents and reverses object recognition memory loss in aging rats..”Nutrition. 27.3 (2011): 338-42. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21168307>.
3. Elks, CM, SD Reed, N Mariappan, B Shukitt-Hale, JA Joseph, DK Ingram, and J Francis. “A blueberry-enriched diet attenuates nephropathy in a rat model of hypertension via reduction in oxidative stress..”PLoS One. 6.9 (2011): n. page. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21949690>.
4. Basu, A, M Rhone, and TJ Lyons. “Berries: emerging impact on cardiovascular health.” Nutrition Reviews. 68.3 (2010): 168-77. Web. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20384847>.
5. Kellermann, A. “The real cost of healthcare.” Los Angeles Times 29 Mar 2012, n. pag. Web. 9 Feb. 2013. <http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/29/news/la-ol-blowback-healthcare-cost>.