The researchers found that fistein -- a flavonoid (plant chemical) found in strawberries -- improved the memory and mental function of mice. To test fistein's effects on memory, the researchers split healthy mice into two groups: The first received a single dose of fistein, and the second did not.
To test the animals' memory, the researchers presented the mice in each group with two objects. Each day, one object would be swapped for a new object of a different shape. Memory was tested by timing how long the mice spent on the new object versus the old object. The researchers found that the mice supplemented with fistein recalled the previous day's object more quickly than the control mice.
Pamela Maher, PhD, the study's lead author, said, "Since the development of a basic understanding of the biochemical pathways involved in memory formation, the holy grail of CNS (central nervous system) research in the pharmaceutical industry is the identification of a safe, orally active drug that activates memory-associated pathways and enhances memory."
Maher found that the antioxidant properties of fistein increased formation of long-term potentiation (LTP) in the brains of the mice. Fistein was also found to trigger the activation of memory formation processes within the brain, and also enabled better memory storage by forming strong connections between neurons.
Maher believed that because fistein was high in antioxidants, it could also offer protection against harmful oxidation in the brain -- a trigger for the development of neurodegenerative disease.
"That suggested to us that these compounds might be particularly beneficial, since they might not only protect neural cells from dying, but might be able to promote new connections between nerve cells," Maher wrote in her study, published in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Natural health advocate Mike Adams, author of "The Seven Laws of Nutrition," said edible plants offer the best natural medicine for protecting the nervous system against degenerative disease.
"Nature synthesizes genuine medicines in these plants, yet it charges no royalties or patent fees, and there's no prescription required," Adams said. "With the help of these healing foods -- such as strawberries -- you can actually eat your way to a healthier, disease-free life."
Fistein can also be found in tomatoes, onions, apples, oranges, grapes, peaches, persimmons and kiwifruit.