Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Berry Consumption Lowers Risk of Cognitive Decline and Dementia in the Elderly

Incidence of cognitive decline leading to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is rising at unprecedented levels among those aged 65 and older. Many people fear the myriad of memory-robbing forms of dementia more than a diagnosis of cancer. Blueberries and strawberries, which are high in flavonoids that easily cross the blood-brain barrier, have been shown to to reduce cognitive decline in older adults in prior bodies of research.

A new study recently published in the Annals of Neurology suggests that cognitive aging could be delayed by up to 2.5 years in elderly individuals who consume greater amounts of flavonoid-rich berries. In the past, studies have hinted at the positive effects of flavonoids from berry consumption, but have been limited to animal studies or very small sample groups. This is the first research to demonstrate the critical preventive and healing nature of anthocyanins in a very large cohort of more than 100,000 senior aged adults.

Blueberries and Strawberries Improve Cognitive Skills in Aging Adults
Flavonoids are bioactive structures found in plants that are known to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Nutrition researchers theorize that stress and inflammation contribute to cognitive impairment and that increasing consumption of flavonoids could thwart the harmful effects. Many forms of dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, are rapidly emerging as illnesses caused largely by poor lifestyle (environmental pollution, household chemicals and electromagnetic forces) and a highly processed diet consisting of sugar, glucose-stimulating carbohydrates and hydrogenated fats.

To conduct the study, researchers examined data from a cohort of 121,700 female registered nurses between the ages of 30 and 55 who completed health and lifestyle questionnaires beginning in 1976. Participants provided details about frequency of food consumption every four years, and cognitive function was measured in 16,010 subjects over the age of 70 years, at 2-year intervals.

Eat Three to five Servings of Fresh Berries Each Week to Lower Risk of Cognitive Decline
Researchers found that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries slows cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years in older women. A greater intake of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids was also associated with a reduction in cognitive degeneration leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Lead study author, Dr. Elizabeth Devore concluded “Our study examined whether greater intake of berries could slow rates of cognitive decline.  We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women. Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification for older adults.”

As aging adults fall prey to the processes of cognitive decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease at an unprecedented pace, it is comforting to know that there are a number of lifestyle and dietary steps that can be followed to improve brain health and memory loss. Include one to two daily servings from a wide variety of berries, especially blueberries and strawberries to improve cognition and normal brain function.

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