When talking about natural ways to enhance memory, most of us must have wished for something that tastes nice rather than always resorting to a ‘not-so-tasty’ herb. Nature has been kind to us by making blueberries a natural memory booster!
According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, blueberries are the second most commonly consumed berries in U.S. after strawberries. Outside U.S., they are known as bilberries; bilberries belong to the same family but are a different species (Vaccinium myrtillus).
Blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium and Vaccinium corymbosum) are rich in antioxidants, perhaps the highest antioxidant content compared to commonly consumed fruits and veggies. Major antioxidants include anthocyanins, gallic acid, quercetin, kaempferol, resveratrol, etc.
Regular consumption of berries is found to decelerate aging, protect heart health, prevent cancer, benefit eye health, etc. Let’s understand how blueberries are one of the best foods for brain and memory.
5 Surprising Benefits of Blueberry For Memory Enhancement
Experimental studies suggest that antioxidants in blueberry are responsible for its favourable action on cognition and memory.
1. It protects cognition
Flavonoids or antioxidants present in blueberry reverse age related deficits in memory and learning. Though these compounds have limited ability to reach the brain, they interact with various cellular targets and biochemical pathways which are involved in memory and learning.
Findings of a retrospective study (basically a survey in this case) published in Annals of Neurology, 2012 revealed that regular consumption of berries delays age related cognitive decline by 2.5 years.
Greater intake of blueberries and strawberries was associated with reduced cognitive decline (in simple terms cognition refers to activity such as memory, problem-solving, attention, etc. )
Freeze dried bilberries powder is found to improve memory by alleviating anxiety and stress.
Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is involved in supporting our voluntary movement as well as memory retention.
Breakdown of acetylcholine by the enzyme ‘acetylcholinesterase’ is inhibited by synthetic drugs (known as AChe inhibitors). This increases level and duration of the neurotransmitter’s activity and prevents memory lapse.
Blueberry extracts elevate the antioxidant status and inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase’s activity thus protecting memory and cognition.
Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) is a protein that regulates growth hormone. Research suggests that impairment of the activity of this protein leads to cognitive impairment and improving its activity can aid in memory enhancement.
Researchers from Tufts University, Boston have demonstrated that antioxidants present in blueberry support hippocampus neuroplasticity (hippocampus is part of the brain involved in memory retention) and increase the levels of IGF to boost memory.
Chronic inflammation can have adverse effects on memory and learning and pave the way for the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Polyphenols present in the berries exert an anti-inflammatory effect and protect the brain from toxicity.
Our diet plays an important role as far as our health is concerned, but I guess most of us are not yet aware of its impact on memory. Research suggests that a high-fat diet can impair memory retention in the brain and even worsen brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s disease.
Carey et al. have proven that inclusion of blueberries or other nutrient dense foods in the high fat diet can impair such deleterious effects on memory caused by high-fat diet.
Researchers from USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University investigated this cognitive enhancing effect of blueberries in elderly individuals. The findings were published in European Journal of Nutrition, 2017.
37 individuals of the age 60-75 years were involved in the study. They were asked to consume freeze-dried blueberry (24g/day which is equivalent to 1 cup of fresh blueberries) or placebo for 90 days.
Blueberry consumption was found to bring about modest improvement in cognition and learning, and the researchers concluded that addition of 1 cup blueberries in the diet for the elderly could be beneficial.
Another fairly recent study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 2017 confirmed the cognition enhancing effects of blueberry.
Consumption of 30 ml anthocyanin rich blueberry concentrate (anthocyanins are the type of antioxidants that impart color to the blueberries) was found to improve blood circulation in the brain and increased brain activity in areas related to cognition and thinking.
Quick Gist: Research suggests that antioxidants present in blueberry enhance various aspects related to memory. They interact with various proteins such as growth factors and enzymes to boost memory and cognition.
Consumption of 1 cup of fresh blueberries is found to boost cognition.
2. Blueberry consumption reduces age related memory loss
Dementia in the elderly is an increasing public health problem. Researchers from University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, USA decided to investigate the preventive measures for this, and their area of focus was blueberry.
Nine individuals were enrolled in the study. They were asked to consume either wild blueberry juice (6-9ml/day/kg which was around 400-600ml daily depending on body weight) or placebo.
Major components of the blueberry juice were glucose, fructose, malic acid and citric acid. The study lasted for 12 weeks.
Significant improvement in memory and learning was observed at the end of the study. Reduction in depressive symptoms and improvement in blood sugar control was also observed.
Now how does blueberry bring about this effect? Various animal model based studies have proven that blueberry extract or powder prevents and reverses memory loss in aging , but no clear mechanism has been identified.
Findings of a study published in The British Journal of Nutrition stated that the berry extracts increase growth factors and support formation of new brain cells in the memory retention area of our brain.
Coultrap et al. have studied the molecular mechanism behind this activity. NMDA receptor is a protein present on nerve cells.
Activation of these receptors in the memory retention area of our brain can help preserve memory (clinically this is called ‘NMDA receptor-dependent long term potentiation’ ) and that is what a blueberry, rich diet exactly does.
Quick Gist: Blueberries are rich in antioxidants which help prevent and reverse age induced memory loss. Consumption of 400-600ml of blueberry juice for three months is found to preserve memory and learning in the elderly.
3. It supports development of new neurons and strengthens memory
Neurogenesis or development of new brain cells is important for the brain to adapt and grow constantly.
Nerve growth factors are proteins required for growth of the nerve cells and one such very important protein is Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This protein helps support recovery and regeneration of the brain.
Hippocampus is the part of our brain that is actively involved in memory development. Experimental research studies show that blueberry extracts increase the levels of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in the hippocampus and boost memory performance.
A study published in PloS One 2013 stated that anthocyanins present in blueberry elevate the levels of this nerve growth factor and this makes blueberries and other flavonoid rich foods natural memory enhancers.
Quick Gist: Nerve growth factors are proteins that the body produces endogenously to support development and survival of brain cells. Experimental studies reveal that blue berry extracts may help increase the levels of such nerve growth factor and thus aid in protecting memory power.
4. It improves memory in children
Not in only in adults, blue berry consumption can help improve memory and learning in children as well.
In 2015, researchers from University of Reading, UK conducted an experiment where 14 children (8-10 years old) were asked to consume an antioxidant rich blueberry drink or a placebo. Two hours later a few studies were conducted to assess the effect on cognition.
Blueberry consumption was found to improve the ability to recall previously learned words. No improvement in attention or other parameters was observed; researchers concluded that acute consumption of antioxidant rich blueberry products can improve memory in school children.
Further, in 2016, they conducted a similar study where children were asked to consume 15-30g of freeze dried blueberry powder. Various tests were conducted. Significant improvement in all cognition parameters was seen as earlier at 1.5 hours after consumption and sustained till 3 hours.
This confirmed the cognition and memory enhancing the effect of blueberry.
The findings of their latest research are published in Nutrition, 2017. It was observed that consumption of flavonoid rich blueberry drink by both children and adults improved mood. It also reduced impairment of brain function caused by depression.
Quick Gist: Research proves that consumption of antioxidant rich blueberry juice improves memory, cognition and learning in children as well.
5. Blueberry consumption benefits in mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s prevention
A recent study published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017 proved that blueberry extracts protect and enhance cognition in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease. It prevented the decrease in BDNF- a nerve growth factor that supports the development of the brain.
Boespfluq et al. examined the effects of blueberry supplementation in patients with mild cognitive impairment (a condition that increases the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s).
16-week supplementation with blueberry (freeze dried blueberry powder equivalent to ½ cup blueberry fruit) was found to improve brain activity in various parts of the brain and improved cognition.
Quick Gist: Blueberry supplementation during early stages of Alzheimer’s or in mild cognitive impairment can help strengthen brain health and prevent cognitive decline.
Dosage of Blueberry For Boosting And Protecting Memory
Including blueberries in the diet is the simplest way to protect cognition and overall health. Various studies quoted above have examined the effect of 1 cup of blueberries (60-100g daily) on brain health and delivered excellent results.
400-600ml blueberry juice daily for adults is proven to be good for memory. Even freeze dried blueberry powder (15-30g daily) is found to be effective.
Fresh blueberry juice can be given to children as well to strengthen memory and learning.
Supplemental forms of blueberry extract at a dose of 5-10g daily are found to be safe and effective. One can opt for blueberry powder or concentrate.
If opting for supplements, please consult a health practitioner about the dose.
Dietary consumption of blueberries or bilberries is safe. Avoid in case of allergies.
Ensure that you buy good quality supplements that are made from organic blueberries. Avoid blueberry leaf extract supplements that claim they are made from blueberry fruit.
Supplements cannot replace the nutritional benefits of whole fruits. Make sure you include blueberries (1 cup at least 1-2 times a week) in your diet regularly. Clean and wash fresh berries before eating. Opt for organic blueberries/ bilberries to minimize the risk of pesticide exposure.
Blueberries are an awesome superfood and are proven to strengthen memory in adults and children.
Consuming these berries can enhance your cognitive power and even support the healthy development of the brain. Additionally, it has many health benefits for overall well being.
1 cup or 1 serving of blueberries a day is one of the keys to razor sharp memory and cognition. Leave your comments below as to how you include blueberries in your diet daily.