(NaturalNews) Phytochemical-rich foods, such as blueberries, are not only healthy food choices, they may actually be able to reverse age-related memory problems. That's the conclusion of a study by a research team from the University of Reading and the Peninsula Medical School in England.
The researchers (from the Schools of Food Biosciences and Psychology in Reading and the Institute of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter) supplemented a regular diet with blueberries over a three month period. Within three weeks, they discovered improvements in spatial working tasks and the improvements continued throughout the course of the study.
"This not only adds science to the claim that eating blueberries are good for you, it also provides support to a diet-based approach that could potentially be used to increase memory capacity and performance in the future," said Dr. Matt Whiteman, a principal investigator of the study, which is soon to be published in the science journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine
Blueberries are a major source of flavonoids, compounds found in fruits, vegetables, and certain beverages that have diverse beneficial biochemical and antioxidant effects. Flavonoids have been shown to cross the blood/brain barrier when blueberries are consumed.
The enhancement of both short-term and long-term memory is controlled in neurons (brain cells) at the molecular level. The researchers think flavonoids found in blueberries may help learning and memory
by enhancing existing neuronal connections, improving communication between cells and stimulating the regeneration of neurons.
The scientists were able to pinpoint the ability of flavonoids to activate signaling proteins in a specific area of the hippocampus, the learning and memory-controlling part of the brain.
"Impaired or failing memory as we get older is one of life's major inconveniences. Scientists have known of the potential health benefits of diets rich in fresh fruits for a long time. Our previous work had suggested that flavonoid compounds had some kind of effect on memory, but until now we had not known the potential mechanisms to account for this," stated Dr. Jeremy Spencer, a lecturer in Molecular Nutrition at the University of Reading, who headed the study.
Dr. Spencer's research team plans on continuing to investigate the effects of diets rich in flavonoids on individuals suffering from cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease (AD).
According to the Alzheimer's Association, as many as 5.2 million people in the United States are living with AD and 10 million baby boomers will develop the memory-robbing disease in their lifetime.
The Association predicts between 11 million and 16 million people will have AD by 2050. The direct and indirect costs of Alzheimer's and other dementias to Medicare, Medicaid and businesses amount to more than $148 billion each year.
While no drug therapy has been shown to be an effective long-term treatment for AD, natural substances are offering hope.
In addition to the new findings suggesting blueberries
may provide a treatment for memory loss, additional research published last December in the Journal of Neuroscience
suggests omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil could play an important role in preventing Alzheimer's disease.
According to a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) increases the production of LR11, a protein that is found at reduced levels in Alzheimer's patients. LR11 is able to destroy the protein that forms the plaques associated with the disease, the researchers explained.
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