Could a blueberry a day keep forgetfulness away? Well, sort of. A new research study has found that blueberries can benefit your brain. Specifically, the equivalent of a half-cup of fresh blueberries per day (consumed as freeze-dried blueberry powder) was found to protect at-risk, middle-aged people from cognitive decline when implemented early.
“It is an interesting study. While some health benefits of blueberries have been more widely recognized previously, like their antioxidant effect, it appears there may be some additional benefit for those at risk of cognitive decline, and for diabetics specifically,” says Millennium Physician Group Family Medicine Physician Andres Santayana, MD. “I am interested to see what further studies show, as it would be great for people to be able to introduce something as simple as increased blueberry intake to improve their health and protect their cognitive abilities.”
Food for Thought
Further research is needed to look at the blueberry-brain health connection, but we know certain foods have already been found to help with brain functions like memory and concentration, especially as we age. Food choices and diets already proven to help improve memory and boost your brain health include:
The Mediterranean diet which focuses on foods like vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil can be good for your brain by minimizing white and gray matter changes.
The MIND diet is a mix of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which was developed to lower blood pressure. The MIND diet focuses on brain-boosting foods like fish and berries, while avoiding foods like red meat, sweets, and fast food.
Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for learning and memory and can help increase your brain’s gray matter volume which helps with memory processing.
Berries. Several studies have shown that berry fruits can have a positive impact on neurodegenerative diseases due to aging.
Replace simple carbs (which break down into sugar) with whole-grains. High sugar intake has been linked with an accelerating decline in brain function.
Train Your Brain
What you put in your body isn’t the only thing that can affect your brain health. What you do with your body (and mind) can help prevent cognitive decline. It’s never too late or too early to incorporate healthy habits. The Alzheimer’s Association offers up these tips to boost your brain power:
Break a sweat. Regular cardiovascular exercise elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Take a class or online course or learn a new language.
Butt out. Quit smoking because evidence shows smoking increases your risk of cognitive decline.
Follow your heart. Evidence shows that risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke, like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, negatively impact your cognitive health.
Heads up. Brain injury can raise your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Wear a seatbelt, use a helmet when playing contact sports or riding a bike, and take steps to prevent falls.
Catch some zzzs. Not getting enough sleep may result in problems with memory and thinking.
Take care of your mental health. Some studies link a history of depression with an increased risk of cognitive decline. Seek medical treatment if you have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns and try to manage stress.
Buddy up. Staying socially engaged may support brain health. Pursue social activities and find ways to be part of your community.
Stump yourself. Challenging your mind may have short and long-term benefits for your brain. Build something. Complete a jigsaw puzzle. Do something artistic. Play games, like bridge or dominoes, that make you think strategically.
Dr. Santayana also recommends taking advantage of a yearly cognitive screening with your primary-care provider. If you’re 65 or older, Medicare will generally cover the cost of this screening as part of your Annual Wellness Visit.
“The screening won’t tell you that you have dementia, only if you may have warning signs,” he clarifies. “It’s an important first step to determine if further testing may be needed.”
Back to Blueberries
In addition to their brain-boosting powers, blueberries are considered one of the healthiest fruits. They’ve been shown to protect against heart disease and cancer, and can also help maintain bone strength, mental health, and healthy blood pressure. They’re rich in antioxidants, full of vitamins and minerals, and high in soluble fiber.
“Whether it’s blueberries, brain games, or exercise cognitive decline and memory issues don’t have to be inevitable as we age,” says Dr. Santayana. “Take steps early to prevent it and work with your primary-care provider to recognize signs early and treat it if necessary.”
As author L.M. Montgomery wrote, “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it.”