A series of research studies report on the effects of blueberries on age-related health.
Blueberries contain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; characteristics that are strongly linked with healthy aging. Previous studies conducted on rodents have identified that blueberries offer several health benefits for those facing age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and blood pressure. A series of research studies published in The Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences have reported on the health benefits of blueberries, particularly with respect to aging.
The effect of blueberries on heart health
Anthocyanins fall under the class of compounds known as flavonoids. These compounds are responsible for the dark blue and purple colouring of berries and have antioxidant properties. Anthocyanins are beneficial to the endothelium, a layer of cells that forms the inner lining of the cardiovascular system. The current study found that anthocyanins found in wild blueberries improved endothelial cell function. In people who consumed wild blueberries, the study reported increased flow-mediated dilation and lower systolic blood pressure. The researchers also investigated gene expression changes and found that anthocyanin metabolites act to alter cellular gene expression.
Anti-inflammatory properties of blueberries
In another study, researchers examined the anti-inflammatory nature of blueberries on varying levels of cognitive performance. Researchers categorized mice with different cognitive abilities based on their performance in the radian arm water maze. Fifty percent of the rodents in each cognitive level category were provided a blueberry diet and were then re-assessed. The study found that poor performing rodents improved their cognitive abilities when kept on a blueberry diet. The rodents that performed well at baseline did not show an improved performance following the blueberry intervention. Based on in-vitro research suggesting a correlation between anti-inflammatory characteristics and cognitive performance, the study concluded that blueberries may aid in reducing the effects of cognitive decline associated with aging.
Effect of blueberries on mild cognitive impairment
Previous clinical trials have identified a correlation between flavonoids and improved cognitive performance. As blueberries are rich in flavonoids, a study analyzed research performing interventions consisting of blueberry-heavy diets on various age groups including children between the ages of 7 and 10, adults aged 60 or more, and individuals with mild cognitive impairment. The study suggests that blueberries may present beneficial traits for improvements in delayed memory, psychomotor function, executive function, but not working memory in the tested age groups.
Effect of polyphenols on age-associated cognitive decline
The final research study in the journal edition addressed the effect of polyphenols, an extract found in blueberries and grapes, on cognitive decline associated with aging. A group of 215 participants aged 60 to 70 were offered either 600mg of polyphenol extract or a placebo per day for a period of six months. Cognitive performance was then tested using a memory and visuospatial learning test. The results suggested that there was a significant impact of the polyphenol intervention on the participants’ verbal episodic and recognition memory.
Dr. Ingram highlighted the strong association between a fruit-heavy diet and optimal health during aging in his editorial to preface this series of research studies. These four studies provide compelling evidence for the health benefits of blueberries in offering preventative care and potentially reducing the effects of cognitive decline, cardiovascular decline, and other age-affiliated medical conditions.
Written by Shrishti Ahuja
Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, Geoffrey Istas, Lisa Boschek, Rodrigo P Feliciano, Charlotte E Mills, Céline Boby, Sergio Gomez-Alonso, Dragan Milenkovic, Christian Heiss, Circulating Anthocyanin Metabolites Mediate Vascular Benefits of Blueberries: Insights From Randomized Controlled Trials, Metabolomics, and Nutrigenomics, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 74, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 967–976, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz047
Barbara Shukitt-Hale, Nopporn Thangthaeng, Marshall G Miller, Shibu M Poulose, Amanda N Carey, Derek R Fisher, Blueberries Improve Neuroinflammation and Cognition differentially Depending on Individual Cognitive baseline Status, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 74, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 977–983, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz048
Donald K Ingram, Blue Versus Gray: Potential Health Benefits of Blueberries for Successful Aging, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 74, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 965–966, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz094
Geronsociety. (n.d.). Diets rich in blueberries yield diverse benefits. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-07/tgso-dri072919.php
Julien Bensalem, Stéphanie Dudonné, Nicole Etchamendy, Hermine Pellay, Camille Amadieu, David Gaudout, Séverine Dubreuil, Marie-Eve Paradis, Sonia Pomerleau, Lucile Capuron, Carol Hudon, Sophie Layé, Yves Desjardins, Véronique Pallet, Polyphenols From Grape and Blueberry Improve Episodic Memory in Healthy Elderly with Lower Level of Memory Performance: A Bicentric Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Study, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 74, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 996–1007, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gly166
Sabine Hein, Adrian Robert Whyte, Eleanor Wood, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, Claire Michelle Williams, Systematic Review of the Effects of Blueberry on Cognitive Performance as We Age, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 74, Issue 7, October 2019, Pages 984–995, https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/glz082
Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay