Wild Blueberries and Lifelong Brain Health—What the Science Shows
You try to eat well to nourish your body, but what about your brain? In general, incorporating an eating style that helps keep your brain sharp has certain characteristics: it’s low in fatty animal protein, higher in plant protein and legumes, rich in whole grains, and emphasizes healthy fats and seafood.
But primarily among the characteristics is this: a brain-healthy diet includes LOTS of produce—and the fruits most often mentioned are berries.
Lucky for us, Wild Blueberries aren’t just ordinary berries—they stand out from the crowd in terms of taste and certain nutritional qualities. You may already be aware that over the past few decades there have been many research studies on the connection between brain function and eating a diet rich in Wild Blueberries – leading them to earn their nickname of “Brain Berries”! And one of the best parts of all of this scientific research is that the evidence points to Wild Blueberries having brain-boosting benefits for people in all stages of life. This is important because our brains don’t stay the same through our entire lives.
So, let’s start from the beginning.
What are the Wild Blueberry Benefits for Kids’ Brains?
The brains of children and teens grow quickly—both physically and cognitively, as both formal learning (e.g., schoolwork) and informal learning (e.g., play and life experiences) continuously challenge young peoples’ brains. Admittedly, when brains are young and healthy, it can be harder to see results in certain types of scientific research. But even so, researchers have been able to discern differences in young peoples’ cognitive function when their diets are supplemented with Wild Blueberries.
In the five clinical studies that have been done with young children and adolescents, Wild Blueberries were found to have positive effects on memory, spatial learning, mood, and executive function (which involves decision making and switching focus). Getting kids used to eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, including Wild Blueberries, benefits their growing brains, but is also a good habit for lifetime health. Check out our kid-friendly recipes for some easy ideas.
Can Midlife Mental Health and Cognition Benefit from a Wild Blueberry Habit?
In short, yes. By the time we reach midlife, both our bodies and our brains have been doing their work for years. Our adult brains have been busy handling diverse cognitive demands and emotional stress. And our bodies? Well, that’s when our lifestyle choices start catching up to us physically. In middle age, the close connection between body and brain is especially evident in the area of metabolic health. Poor metabolic health is characterized by a number of factors including obesity (especially abdominal obesity), unhealthy blood lipid levels, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose levels, even inflammation in the brain itself. It’s no surprise then that cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome—all of which typically begin showing up in middle age—have these factors in common, too.
The good news is that Wild Blueberries have documented benefits against these conditions and can also provide benefits to the middle-aged brain.
A newly published population study with middle-aged adults showed a strong association between higher consumption of anthocyanins (the blue pigments abundant in Wild Blueberries) and reduced risk of various dementias including Alzheimer’s disease. The first clinical study of cognitive effects of Wild Blueberry consumption specifically in middle-aged people was published in 2020. The volunteers were aged 40-65 and were challenged with a variety of cognitive tests after a single dose of either a placebo or a Wild Blueberry beverage. Within an 8-hour time frame the Wild Blueberry group not only performed better in certain cognitive tasks (those testing memory and attention), but they also had better blood sugar control.
Do Wild Blueberries Help Preserve Brain Function in Older Adults?
Later in life, the brain is dealing with the physical stresses of degeneration, which is a normal part of aging and starts during middle-age. Because elderly people are at greatest risk to be affected by the negative impacts of brain aging, including neurodegenerative disease, this population has been a main focus for studies examining the neuroprotective effects of foods. The highly regarded and studied MIND diet specifically calls out berry consumption as being protective against cognitive decline with age. And as of 2019, the effects of blueberries have been studied in six clinical trials carried out with elderly people age 60-92.
Two studies that tracked brain activity in elderly volunteers using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) revealed greater brain activity in those who consumed blueberries as compared to a placebo. Studies have also documented improvements in several specific cognitive tests (including memory tasks) in subjects who received a Wild Blueberry intervention compared to those getting a placebo. There are likely multiple mechanisms responsible for Wild Blueberry benefits on brain function in this age group, including impacts of the high level and wide variety of anthocyanins present in berries, as well as improved blood flow and oxygen delivery to the brain.
All and All, Pick Up a Wild Blueberry Habit for Your Brain.
Given what we know about Wild Blueberries and the positive impact consumption can have on brain function, it makes good sense to start eating them on the regular. A Wild Blueberry “habit” is good for brains at any age!