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
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
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
Bruce Brightman – founder
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