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Scientists report first evidence berries keep brains young, protect from memory loss

Thursday, August 26, 2010 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: berries, memory loss, health news

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Delicious
NaturalNews) As NaturalNews has reported over the past several years, researchers have found that berries are loaded with health-protective properties. For example, these super foods appear to fight cancer, heart disease, infections and more. Now, for the first time, there's remarkable evidence that people who eat blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries may protect their brains from the effects of aging, too.

A new study, just presented in Boston at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), concluded these berries -- and possibly walnuts -- preserve memory and other mental faculties in a crucial but previously unknown way. They turn on the brain's natural "housekeeper" mechanism. The result? The body cleans up and recycles toxic proteins linked to age-related memory loss, dementia and other mental deterioration.

Shibu Poulose, Ph.D., a scientist with the U. S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston who presented the report, pointed out that earlier studies have suggested that as most people age, there is a decline in the body's ability to protect itself against inflammation which, in turn, causes oxidative damage. Bottom line: inflammation may be the initial trigger behind degenerative brain diseases, heart disease, cancer, and other age-related disorders.

"The good news is that natural compounds called polyphenolics found in fruits, vegetables and nuts have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that may protect against age-associated decline," Dr. Poulose said in a statement to the media. Dr. Poulose conducted the groundbreaking nutrition research with James Joseph, Ph.D., who passed away on June 1. Dr. Joseph, who headed the laboratory, was a pioneer in the study of how antioxidants in fruits and nuts prevent age-related cognitive decline.

Previous studies by Dr. Joseph and Dr. Poulose showed that elderly laboratory rats fed diets containing an added two percent mixture of high-antioxidant strawberry, blueberry, or blackberry extract for two months became "younger" mentally. The animals' brains showed that age-related deficits in nerve function and behavior that involve earning and remembering were actually reversed after eating berries regularly.

For the new research, Dr. Poulose and Dr. Joseph investigated why nerve function declines with aging. They found it involves a reduction in what they described as the brain's natural house-cleaning process. In a process termed autophagy, cells called microglia function as housekeepers, removing and recycling biochemical debris that otherwise would interfere with brain function. "But in aging, microglia fail to do their work, and debris builds up. In addition, the microglia become over-activated and actually begin to damage healthy cells in the brain," Dr. Poulose stated.

Using cultures of mouse brain cells, the scientists discovered that extracts of berries inhibited the action of a protein that shuts down the autophagy process. "Our research suggests that the polyphenolics in berries have a rescuing effect. They seem to restore the normal housekeeping function. These findings are the first to show these effects of berries," said Dr. Poulose.

He added that the study shows it is important to eat foods rich in phytochemicals known as polyphenolics. Dr. Poulose also pointed out that it is best to consume whole fruit, which contain the full range of hundreds of healthful phytochemicals, when possible.

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