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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Berries Reaffirmed as Brain and Heart Health Allies
Study finds less mental decline in adults who enjoy strawberries at least once a month; conference presentations affirm earlier studies in these and other common berries
by Craig Weatherby

Brain function diminishes with age… and certain food-borne antioxidants appear to deter some of the inflammation-driven cell damage associated with mental decline.

Presentations made at the 2009 Berry Health Symposium extend the benefits of berries and describe how they can help preserve heart and brain health.

Several of the studies showed that berry consumption can improve cognitive function.

For instance, a study presented by researchers from the Chicago Healthy Aging Project showed that older adults who consume strawberries at least once per month have less cognitive decline.

Women who consumed more than one serving of strawberries per month showed a 16.2 percent slower rate of cognitive decline, versus those who consumed less.

Britt Burton-Freeman, Ph.D., of the Illinois Institute of Technology summarized a growing consensus about the actions and benefits of berries:

“Consuming a diet rich in colorful fruits, like strawberries, shows promise for helping people to achieve and maintain a lowered risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly through their action in mitigating oxidative, inflammatory, and metabolic stressors that contribute to atherogenesis [arterial plaque buildup] and many of the chronic diseases burdening our society today” (Burton-Freeman B. 2009).

And Drs. James Joseph and Barbara Shukitt-Hale from the world-renowned USDA lab at Tufts University presented animal research showing that berries can reduce aging-related deficits in learning, memory and motor function, such as balance and walking speed (Shukitt-Hale B et al. 2009).

How berry-borne antioxidants may protect brains
Most disease and aging processes are initiated or promoted by chronic, silent inflammation, which generates free radicals that oxidize and damage cell membranes and turn on pro-inflammatory genetic switches.

Healthy nerve cell membranes promote optimal communication within the brain and nervous system, so preventing membrane damage from inflammation and oxidation is essential.

The numerous antioxidant substances in berries include potent polyphenols, some of which (anthocyanins) serve as blue-red pigments.

It's hoped that berries can help deter dementia: that is, loss of cognitive function sufficient to interfere with everyday tasks, of which Alzheimer's disease is the most common form.

It is estimated that one in eight persons, aged 65 and older have Alzheimer's. There is no cure for the disease and drug treatments are largely ineffective.

According to recently released census estimates, the world's 65-and-older population will triple by 2050 to make up one in six people.

The number of senior citizens has already increased 23 percent since 2000 to 516 million, more than double the growth rate for the general population. As a result, the incidence of dementia is likely to rise.

  • Burton-Freeman B. Health Promoting Foods: The Strawberry. 2009 International Berry Health Benefits Symposium. Accessed at
  • Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Casadesus G. Reversing the deleterious effects of aging on neuronal communication and behavior: The beneficial properties of fruit polyphenolics. Amer. J. Clin. Nutr. 81 (Suppl.):313S-316S. 2005.
  • Rabin B. M., Joseph J. A., Shukitt-Hale B., Carey, A. N. Dietary modulation of the effects of exposure to 56Fe particles. Adv. Space Res. 40: 576-580. 2007.
  • Rabin BM, Shukitt-Hale, B, Joseph J. Behavioral Effects of Berries in Aging and Aging Radiation Models. 2009 International Berry Health Benefits Symposium. Accessed at
  • Rabin BM, Shukitt-Hale, B, Joseph J., Todd P. Diet as a factor in behavioral radiation protection following exposure to heavy particles. Gravitational Space Biol. 18: 71-77. 2005.
  • Shukitt-Hale B, Lau FC, Joseph JA. Berry fruit supplementation and the aging brain. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Feb 13;56(3):636-41. Epub 2008 Jan 23. Review.
  • Shukitt-Hale B., Carey A.N., Jenkins D., Rabin B.M., Joseph J.A. Beneficial effects of fruit extracts on neuronal function and behavior in a rodent model of accelerated aging. Neurobiol. Aging 28:1187-1194. 2007.
  • Shukitt-Hale B., Casadesus G., Carey A.N., Rabin B.M., Joseph, J.A. Exposure to radiation accelerates normal brain aging and produces deficits in spatial learning and memory. Adv. Space Res. 39:1087-1092. 2007.
  • Shukitt-Hale B, Cheng V, Joseph JA. Effects of blackberries on motor and cognitive function in aged rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2009 Jun;12(3):135-40.