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Berries can stave off mental decline

30th April 2012

Eating blueberries and strawberries could delay dementia in older people by as much as two and a half years, according to a new study.

blueberries

Researchers writing in the Annals of Neurology found that eating plenty of the berries, which are high in antioxidants, reduced cognitive decline in older adults.

They say the effects may be linked to the presence of flavonoids in high concentrations in the berries, giving them an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect.

Elderly people who ate the largest quantities of the berries were likely to experience cognitive decline as much as two and a half years later than those who did not.

The study analysed data from the US Nurses' Health Study of 121,700 women aged 30-55 who had filed health and lifestyle questionnaires as far back as 1976.

It found a link between women with a higher berry intake and a delay in cognitive ageing.

However, while there were controls in place for some other health factors, researchers warned that women who ate more berries may also have led a healthier lifestyle generally, possibly with more exercise.

Experts said that population studies could be very useful for finding clues about the effects of a person's lifestyle on cognition.

But according to Eric Karran, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, caution is needed when interpreting the results.

He said there could be many other factors at play, and the study was unable to show whether or not the flavonoid antioxidants actually reached the brains of the study participants, nor whether their presence there boosted cognition.

He said more studies would be needed to assess whether or not antioxidants are actually beneficial in the brain, and warned people not to assume that eating more berries would necessarily ward off dementia.

Karran added that fruit nonetheless played an important part in maintaining cognition in middle-aged people as they aged, and that understanding factors that affected human memory and thinking could lead to a greater knowledge of the risk factors for dementia.

He said there was an urgent need for people to understand how best to reduce the risk of dementia.

Cambridge University public health professor Carol Brayne said that people who ate berries often had other positive attitudes to health, which in themselves were more likely to help them age more healthily.

However, she said that blueberries had come to the attention of medical researchers several years ago and were "worth further investigation."

She called for well-designed clinical trials to probe the findings further.

University College London medical imaging sciences professor Derek Hill welcomed the results, saying the study was large and well-designed that added to growing evidence that dietary changes may slow the onset of dementia.

He said people could take steps to improve their lifestyles while society awaiting two important trials of new dementia drugs that target proteins in the brain associated with Alzheimer's Disease.

 

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