The All Mighty Blueberry! by Bruce Brightman - LifeSource Vitamins
The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are well-known, especially with respect to cardiovascular disease and certain kinds of cancer. Fruits and vegetables may also have important effects on other body systems and diseases. We wanted to find out if fruits and vegetables could change how age affects brain function. We were particularly interested in the effects on motor function (coordination and movement) and cognitive function (learning and memory) because problems in these areas are common in elderly people
Rats also experience changes in motor and cognitive function as they age. The changes occur within months rather than years because of the shorter life span of the rat. In one study, aged rats had decreased performance on a balancing test that uses a device called a rotor rod to evaluate motor function. In a water maze test, which evaluates cognitive function, younger rats had little difficulty, but older rats took longer to complete the test. Several factors might be responsible for age-related changes in motor and cognitive function. The sensitivity of certain receptors that trigger brain processes may be decreased. There may be alterations in the cellular environments. The signals themselves may be altered.
Oxidative stress may also produce age-related changes in motor and cognitive behavior. With age, the brain becomes more sensitive to oxidative stress and possibly inflammation. This increased sensitivity may be due to decreases in the amount or activity of naturally-occurring antioxidants. Age-related changes in the structure or function of brain membranes may also play a role. Finally, because the brain does not age uniformly, the sensitivity to oxidative stress may vary depending on the type of receptors that are present in the particular area of the brain.
We wanted to find out if fruits and vegetables could alter the effects of aging on the brain. We were especially interested in berries because they contain high levels of natural antioxidants. We fed pelletized extracts of blueberries, strawberries, or spinach to 19 month old rats for 8 weeks. (Motor and cognitive deficits have already appeared by the time rats are 19 months old.) When corrected for the difference in body size between rats and humans, the amounts fed the rats were similar to what a human would normally eat: about one-half to one cup of blueberries, a pint of strawberries, or a large spinach salad. We studied the effects on learning, motor behavior, memory, and certain cell functions that are sensitive to aging and oxidative stress.
All of the supplemented diets had beneficial effects on water maze performance, but only blueberry supplementation affected motor performance, as shown by improvement on the rotor rod test. The spinach-supplemented rats showed the most improvement on a motor learning test that required both cognitive and motor function. However, when we looked at the actual running times, we found that these results were misleading: the rats supplemented with either strawberries or blueberries had run the test so quickly the first time that there was little room for improvement.
In order to more closely duplicate the average human diet, we repeated the study, replacing the specially-formulated diet with one based on corn and other grains. In addition, we used both cultivated and wild blueberries. Both types of blueberries increased motor performance, showing that blueberries had beneficial effects even as a supplement to a well-balanced diet. Interestingly, preliminary findings indicated that the blueberry-supplemented rats had a lower incidence of age-related changes, such as inflammation, in their leg muscles.
Certain types of radiation can cause changes in the brain that are similar to those of aging. We supplemented rats with a diet containing either strawberries or blueberries for eight weeks prior to being irradiated. The results indicated that the effects of the radiation were blocked. Precisely how blueberries caused these changes is not known, but there are many possible pathways. For example, the protective effects might have been caused by increases in antioxidant or anti-inflammatory activity, increases in vital cell functions and reactions, or increases in the brain's neural connections.
Anthocyanins and hydroxycynamic acids are two of the most common polyphenolic families-groups of related chemical compounds-found in blueberries. We wanted to find out if either of these was responsible for the anti-aging effects of blueberries. After chemically separating each compound from whole blueberries, we administered them orally to rats. Plasma anthocyanin and hydroxycynamic acid levels were highest immediately after administration, then slowly decreased. The peak anthocyanin level was higher than that of hydroxycynamic acid. The antioxidant effect was measured by assessing free radical production in red blood cells exposed to oxidative stress. Initially, anthocyanin administration caused a 20% lowering of the free radical levels in the red blood cells. This effect continued for as long as 24 hours, even though anthocyanin levels decreased. Hydroxycynamic acid did not produce this response, suggesting that anthocyanin had a greater capacity to penetrate the cells. A subsequent experiment showed this to be the case. Thus, we hypothesize that anthocyanin compounds are responsible for at least some of the beneficial effects of blueberries.
Finally, we explored the effects of blueberry supplementation in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. This disease, which is characterized by increased sensitivity to oxidative stress, is superimposed upon an aged brain that is already more vulnerable to oxidative stress and inflammation. The net effect is severe cognitive dysfunction. Groups of Alzheimer's mice and normal mice were fed a standard balanced diet plus blueberries from the time they were weanlings until they were 12 months of age. Other groups were fed the standard diet without blueberries. At the end of the study, we found that only 45% of the Alzheimer's mice without blueberry supplementation could perform adequately on a Y-maze test. In the normal mice (with and without blueberry supplementation), 59% of the animals performed the test correctly. In the blueberry-fed Alzheimer's mice, the completion rate was 61%--essentially the same as the normal rats. Blueberry supplementation did not decrease the incidence of abnormalities usually associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as amyloid deposits. However, supplementation did prevent the loss of brain communication networks that are essential for learning and memory function.
Our findings suggest that the beneficial effects of blueberry supplementation may be both direct and indirect. The indirect effects involve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities that could eventually alter communication between brain cells. However, nutrients found in blueberries may also produce direct effects on brain communications and signaling that could lead to improved cognitive and motor performance. Clearly, the old phrase "you are what you eat" could become more important than ever as we strive toward successful aging.
Try our Phyto Blues & Purples Powder to get your Blueberry intake deliciously.
Bruce Brightman – founder
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