Wild Blueberries: They’re Called “Brain Berries” for a Reason

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Over the years, Wild Blueberries have earned the nickname “brain berries,” and now, they can claim another scientific credit —improving cognitive performance in healthy, middle-aged adults. Couple this with the fact that wild blueberries are more flavorful than ordinary blueberries, and you can rest assured that starting your day with wild is a great choice for the whole family.

You may already know that the relationship between wild blueberries and cognition has been studied for decades (and in case you didn’t know that, you can catch up here and here). In fact, a number of clinical studies have shown that daily consumption of wild blueberries is associated with cognitive improvements for people of all ages, including children, young adults, and older adults. Until recently however, there has been a lack of research focused on the effects of these tiny potent berries and brain health in middle-aged adults—and more specifically, healthy middle-aged adults.

“Demonstrating the cognitive benefits of consuming whole foods in a relatively healthy population is difficult,” says Britt Burton-Freeman PhD, Director of the Center for Nutrition Research at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a co-researcher for this study, “And yet, the research on wild blueberries continues to demonstrate benefits across, what appears to be, much of the lifespan.”

Why is this so important?

Well, there are a LOT of healthy middle-aged people who are looking to stay that way—and they’re interested in learning about foods that may help them preserve their brain function and cognitive abilities. Cognitive health includes the ability to think clearly, learn and remember things. With the recent publication of a collaborative study from researchers at two U.S. universities and one in the U.K., we can fill in this important age gap in the scientific evidence that supports the role of wild blueberries in maintaining cognitive health.

What did the new study find?

The new double-blind study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition, explored the impact of a single dose of wild blueberries on the cognitive performance of 35 adults aged 40-to-65. The subjects consumed the berries in a beverage that included a powder made from whole, freeze-dried wild blueberries in an amount equal to about one cup of berries. A matched placebo was used for comparison, and all subjects served as their own controls (meaning each subject received both treatments—the wild blueberry beverage and the placebo beverage—at some point in the study). Then, at both 4- and 8-hours after consuming the beverage (or placebo) the participants were asked to perform a number of validated cognitive tests designed to evaluate working memory as well as new learning and retention—areas of cognition, the study authors explain, are “characteristically vulnerable to decline with aging beginning in midlife.” Some of the testing tasks were fairly easy memory exercises, such as verbally repeating lists of words after hearing them, but then tasks grew progressively more difficult and complicated.

“Our study indicated that, when compared to a placebo, participants showed better memory function after consuming the Wild Blueberry drink,” explains Adrian Whyte, PhD, lead author of the published paper. “This was particularly evident in memory recognition tests where participants were required to remember whether they had seen an item or word before. They also demonstrated improved attention, a part of what’s known as executive function whereby they were able to overcome the impulse to respond to misleading cues, and also showed faster reaction times.”

These observed benefits were most pronounced during the most difficult aspects of the tasks.

Blood sugar control was also positively impacted

A second finding of this study is related to metabolic health, specifically the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose after consuming food. The participants showed reduced post-meal blood glucose and insulin levels over the first two hours following consumption of the wild blueberry beverage in comparison to the placebo. However, there was little evidence of a relationship between the metabolic and cognitive benefits found in this study.

According to Britt Burton-Freeman, PhD, Director of the Center for Nutrition Research at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a co-researcher for this study, glucose control is a growing concern in middle-age, as risk factors for chronic diseases—like diabetes—start to appear. “Although we did not see a statistical association with cognition, the metabolic benefits stand on their own, showing that wild blueberries can help reduce post-meal glucose and insulin, which is important for long-term health and lowering the risk for diabetes development,” explains Burton-Freeman.

Take-home messages

Overall, this new study adds more evidence to the growing body of research that wild blueberries enhance cognitive performance in people of all ages.

All in all, including wild blueberries in your daily diet, is easy considering their convenience (frozen and always at the ready), versatility, and great taste. For ideas on ways to incorporate wild blueberries into your cooking, check out our large selection of recipes—there’s something to appeal to everyone, at every age.