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Latest Research Touts Blueberries as Brain Food
An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but a daily serving of blueberries can help reduce your risk for dozens of debilitating illnesses, including obesity, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Many fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of disease-fighting antioxidants, but recent research suggests that the antioxidants in blueberries, known as anthocyanins, are especially potent.
In the brain and body, anthocyanins neutralize free radicals — highly reactive molecules that can injure cellular components, particularly genetic material. Free radical-induced damage, known as oxidative damage, contributes to the aging process and to the development of disease.
In recent years, blueberries have been elevated to the status of brain food. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the colorful fruit can help prevent — and even reverse — some age-related memory decline.
When researchers from the University of Reading in Pennsylvania and Peninsula Medical School in England supplemented rats' regular diets with blueberries, they noted dramatic changes in the rodents' cognitive function. Animals treated with blueberries exhibited an 83 percent improvement on tests of memory within three weeks, and the improvement was maintained for the remainder of the 12-week study.
Other studies have yielded similar results. Scientists at Tufts University in Boston found that when old rats were fed diets containing antioxidant-rich blueberry extracts for a period of just two months, they showed dramatic reversals of age-related declines in both mental and physical performance.
Compared to untreated elderly rats, those given blueberry extracts scored highest on tests designed to measure balance and coordination. The blueberry-treated rodents also outperformed their untreated counterparts in terms of brain function and memory.
Although scientists haven't uncovered the precise mechanism by which blueberries benefit the brain, they're making progress. It is known that certain chemical compounds in blueberries, called flavonoids, are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.
It is widely believed that blueberry-derived flavonoids may help improve learning and memory by enhancing communication among brain cells. Some experts speculate that these beneficial compounds may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.
At the very least, the flavonoids in blueberries exert a strong anti-inflammatory action in the brain.
Eating blueberries appears to be just as beneficial for your body as it is for your brain. Last year, scientists at Rutgers University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced their findings that a chemical compound in blueberries may help prevent colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
The compound, known as pterostilbene, reduced the development of pre-cancerous lesions in laboratory animals by nearly 60 percent. Pterostilbene works by decreasing inflammation and inhibiting the growth and proliferation of cells, two processes that significantly increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
Pterostilbene has also been shown to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrated that the blueberry-derived compound can lower cholesterol levels as effectively as some prescription drugs, but with far fewer side effects.
Another compound in blueberries, called epicatechin, can help prevent bladder and kidney infections. Research conducted at Rutgers University demonstrated that epicatechin keeps harmful bacteria from latching onto cells lining the urinary tract, thwarting their ability to cause infection.
A number of recent studies suggest that consuming a diet rich in blueberries may help lower blood pressure. University of Maine researchers found that in the presence of stress hormones, the arteries of lab animals fed blueberry-enriched diets remained more relaxed than those of their untreated counterparts.
In spite of their sweet and delicious taste, a half-cup serving of blueberries offers just over 80 calories. Because they're rich in nutrients and high in fiber, the berries make a satisfying snack.
Compounds in the tasty fruit may even help reduce the risk of weight gain and the development of obesity. According to the results of a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, mice fed high-fat diets and blueberry-derived anthocyanins gained significantly less weight and body fat than mice consuming high-fat diets alone.
If you're in search of a snack that can improve your health, boost your brainpower and make your taste buds happy, a bowlful of blueberries might be your best bet.
Rallie McAllister is a board-certified family physician, speaker and the author of several books, including "Healthy Lunchbox: The Working Mom's Guide to Keeping You and Your Kids Trim." Her website is www.rallieonhealth.com. To find out more about Rallie McAllister, M.D., and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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