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Scarecrow’s Lament: Can We Really Preserve Brain Function?

When Health Magazine announced its America’s Healthiest Superfoods for Women, it cited research that indicates wild blueberries may help prevent memory loss and improve motor skills. Part of living a long, healthy life is keeping the brain in top condition – can this tiny fruit really preserve brain function? 
In making this claim, Health Magazine is referring to an essential brain study done by James A. Joseph, PhD, and his team at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston. Dr. Joseph is co-author of The Color Code , a book that explores the beneficial effects of richly-hued, colorful foods, and is lead researcher at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. Joseph and his team reported that a diet of blueberries may indeed improve motor skills and reverse the short-term memory loss that comes with aging such as Alzheimer’s.
The Brain-Diet Connection
Dr. Joseph’s research revealed that in USDA animal trials, improved navigational skills were evident after a two-month diet of blueberry extract. Although other fruits and vegetables were studied, only blueberries were effective in improving motor skills. In layman’s terms, rats with neuronal lesions that were fed supplemented diets made their way to their cube of cheddar better and faster. This boon to the brain was groundbreaking: the connection between motor skills and nutrition, specifically the nutrition offered by blueberries, was documented. The data also showed an improvement in short term memory loss as a result of the supplemented diet. Joseph and his team had found that it may be possible to overcome genetic predispositions to Alzheimer’s disease through diet.
Inflammation & the Brain
Not only did rats perform better in cognitive tests when fed a blueberry-supplemented diet, but the concentration of several substances in the brain that can trigger an inflammatory response was significantly reduced. The chemical structure of blueberries appeared to inhibit inflammation, and had “attenuated learning impairments” according to the report published in Nutritional Neuroscience. In a stunning “reversal” of the aging process, their brain tissue experienced a kind of regeneration.
Joseph’s study has contributed to wild blueberries’ status as a “brain food”. They appear prominently on lists of top brain foods, and they stand proudly beside other foods (like omega 3-rich wild salmon and walnuts) that pack a punch for preserving brain health.
The Bottom Line
Healthy aging depends on preserving our cognitive ability. While all of us want to live a long, disease-free life, our longevity is only valuable if our brain is functioning well. The bottom line is: keep your head, and eat your brain food. A half of a cup of wild blueberries per day (check for “wild” for the most concentrated nutritional benefit) should help keep you thinking healthy thoughts.

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