Blueberries are a common favorite fruit, making appearances in muffins, cereal, and fruit salads. While this fruit has been shown to already have health benefits, researchers from the University of Cincinnati have found that blueberries can also help lower the risk of dementia, as well as prediabetes. The scientists published their findings in the journal Nutrients.
Background: Amazing Antioxidants
The main component in blueberries that gives them their health benefits is an antioxidant called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is one chemical that gives blueberries their blue color. Antioxidants, like anthocyanins, can help reduce inflammation, increase cell energy production, and help boost metabolism. Research is still ongoing to show just how impactful these antioxidants are in helping human health.
Analysis: Blueberries and Mental Cognition
The researchers at the University of Cincinnati, led by Dr. Robert Krikorian, had previously looked at how blueberries were affecting the chances of an individual developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, the researchers wanted to take a more nutritional approach. Scientists had previously noticed a link between prediabetes (or insulin resistance) and chronic illnesses. Around 50% of Americans develop prediabetes, creating a significant number of those who may develop chronic illness. Krikorian and his team wanted to see if blueberries could fight both prediabetes and the development of dementia. “We had observed cognitive benefits with blueberries in prior studies with older adults and thought they might be effective in younger individuals with insulin resistance,” explained Krikorian. “Alzheimer’s diseases like all chronic diseases of aging, develops over a period of many years, beginning in midlife.”
To test their theory, the researchers studied 33 participants between the ages of 50-65 who were prediabetic, overweight, and had noticed mental decline issues already happening. The researchers gave the participants daily supplement packets to take with either breakfast or dinner.
Half of the subjects had packets that contained the equivalent of one-half cup of whole blueberries while the corresponding group received a placebo. Along with these packets, all subjects were given cognitive tests to determine memory function. The researchers found that the group who regularly consumed blueberries did better on the cognitive tests. These individuals also had lower fasting insulin levels, allowing the participants better metabolic function and fat-burning efficiency.
The researchers also found that the blueberry-consuming group had a slightly higher rate of mitochondrial uncoupling, a process that has been linked to a longer lifespan. “This last finding was exploratory but points to an interesting, potential mechanism for blueberry benefits,” Krikorian added.
Outlook: More Benefits to Come?
The researchers were excited by their findings but also understood that more research needed to be done. “The sample size is an obvious limitation to the study,” Krikorian said. “So, it will be important to reproduce these findings, especially by other investigators.” While the research continues, the researchers do recommend for all individuals enjoy this super-fruit. As Krikorian explained: “In the meantime, it might be a good idea to consume blueberries on a regular basis.”
Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: https://kennacastleberry.com/