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Berries may delay memory decline
April 26th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Berries may delay memory decline

As the number of Americans living with Alzheimer's disease continues to rise, researchers are investigating various ways that people can prevent memory decline through nutrients in foods we might eat often anyway.

So far, nothing has been proven to work for sure, but there's no harm in eating healthy foods.

The latest target of interest is berries. A study of more than 16,000 women over age 70 suggests there is a connection between berries and memory problems. Specifically, women who ate the most berries per week were likely to have up to a 2.5-year advantage in terms of when they showed signs of memory decline.

There's no reason think that results would be different in men, said the study's lead author, Elizabeth Devore, researcher at the Channing Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

But note that this study, published in Annals of Neurology, received funding from the California Strawberry Commission - a potential conflict of interest. The data analysis, writing and results were done completely independently of this sponsor, however, Devore said, and did not have anything to do with the concept of the study.

Participants were asked about food consumption every four years since 1980, and their memory was tested every two years between 1995 and 2001. Researchers found that the women who ate at least 1/2 cup of blueberries per week, or two 1/2 cups of strawberries, showed the greatest benefits.

"I’d recommend that both men and women eat more berries," Devore said.

Here's how berries might help: mitochrondria are energy generators of brain cells, and have been thought to also produce substances toxic to the brain that lead to Alzheimer's disease. These toxic compounds are called "free radicals," which damage brain cells and impair cellular processing. Berries are rich in flavonoids, which can act as antioxidants, interacting with free radicals before they cause damage.

But read the results of the new study with caution, says Dr. William Hu, assistant professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine. The study authors did not control the diets of the participants - the information about berry intake is based on their own recollections.

And it's hard to directly translate the effect of berries on cognitive decline when other lifestyle factors may also contribute to prevention. The berries themselves may have only a modest role to play.

Hu also noted that the study authors did not control for the presence of a particular genetic variant, called ApoE4, that predisposes people to develop Alzheimer's disease. Devore said her team didn't consider it because genetic variants wouldn't be associated with berry intake. And a separate study looking at a group of women in the Nurses' Health Study found the frequency of the Alzheimer's associated gene similar to what's been reported in older Caucasian women in other large studies.

Exercising, doing puzzles and other mind-stimulating activities, having a social support network and eating a healthy, balanced diet have all been suggested in previous research to contribute to preventing cognitive aging.

"I don't think that any one of these factors is the silver bullet," Hu said.

Still, it doesn't mean you should stop eating berries, either. Hu and his wife eat strawberries every night.


soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Nic Christensen

    i hate to break it to you, but strawberries aren't berries.

    April 26, 2012 at 07:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tonybotz

      Ha! Exactly

      April 26, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse |
    • bellenoitr

      Then what are they? Strawbots? What about blackberries and raspberries. You mean to tell me they were all named incorrectly how many years ago?

      April 27, 2012 at 08:55 | Report abuse |
  2. Starman

    I'm going to assume that strawberry ice cream counts.

    April 26, 2012 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. PantyRaid

    Smoke w33d everyday and this will help prevent alzheimer's and cancer.

    April 26, 2012 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ollie

      Every day might be a bit excessive. But 6 days a week would be good.

      April 26, 2012 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  4. nelco

    That's why I NEVER forget to eat my berries!

    April 26, 2012 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Freedom Rock

    Wait, who are you people?

    April 26, 2012 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. eroteme

    How great it is! Another 'health revelation' from 'researchers'. I wonder what the next glorious finding will be!

    April 26, 2012 at 11:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. James

    too bad Berries are just too expensive these days, $10 for a tiny box of rasberries. I can't afford them, atleast this way only rich ppl can have better brains.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grumpster

      I pulled up some shoots off the roadside and planted them 2 years ago. Now I have enough that I simply can't eat them all. Why pay for something you can get for free?

      April 26, 2012 at 12:31 | Report abuse |
    • mmortal03

      More importantly, did they correct for this type of thing in their study? People who can afford to live nearby fresh produce and purchase it frequently are more likely to have more money, and they are more likely to make that money in society because they have brains that are stronger in other ways that could make their brains stay healthier longer.

      April 26, 2012 at 16:27 | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      Grumpster, you are one smart man, when I lived in Puerto Rico I had avocados, mangoes, soursop, azaroles and finger bananas, all out of my back yard, plus a whole lotta tree shade. Here in Georgia my fig tree, pear tree and muscadine grapes are coming up nicely, I'm doing raspberries soon...

      April 27, 2012 at 07:46 | Report abuse |
    • bellenoitr

      Don't know where you live, but all berries have had a bumper year in the USA. $10 for raspberries? I've been paying $2.99 or $3.99 and that also includes blackberries. Strawberries have been wonderrfully delicious and cheap all through the winter. I make fresh fruit salad 1 to 2 times a week. Throw in a little pineapple and you've got it made.

      April 27, 2012 at 08:54 | Report abuse |
    • BR55

      Buy frozen–cheaper!

      April 27, 2012 at 10:42 | Report abuse |
  8. Grumpster

    I just planted two elderbery bushes....some elderberry wine will be my berry consumption.

    April 26, 2012 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Katie

      Don't eat 'em raw – they're poisonous.

      April 27, 2012 at 06:59 | Report abuse |
  9. The Third Variable

    Kudos to the author for pointing out that: "And it's hard to directly translate the effect of berries on cognitive decline when other lifestyle factors may also contribute to prevention. The berries themselves may have only a modest role to play."

    Too often the popular press leaves out these important qualifications from health research. Here, it may be that people that are more likely to frequently consume berries are the type of people that are more health conscious in general, or higher on the socioeconomic ladder, or have more mental stimulation in their lives, etc. etc.

    April 26, 2012 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Chewing their cud

    Yesterday – and I mean 4/25/12, strawberries were bad for you. Now they're good. So which is it?

    Bottom line: Eat and drink what you want. Be merry. Life's too short to ruin it with tofu, alfalfa and beans sprouts every day.

    April 26, 2012 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Oscar Pitchfork

    Do Dingleberries count?

    April 26, 2012 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Kim

    I make a wild berry smoothie every night

    April 26, 2012 at 14:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Leila

    I think people are missing the MAIN point of this article. The study in itself is not conclusive since " the study authors did not control the diets of the participants – the information about berry intake is based on their own recollections." Moreover, the article says that "exercising, doing puzzles and other mind-stimulating activities, having a social support network and eating a healthy, balanced diet have all been suggested in previous research to contribute to preventing cognitive aging." The real key here is to keep your brain engaged and challenged throughout your entire life!

    April 26, 2012 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jay Chalmers

    All the kids in my class will have healthy brains because as they say, "We go to the liberry every Thursday."

    April 26, 2012 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. your mom

    what was that article about, I forget

    April 26, 2012 at 18:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bellenoitr

      Basically, it's about making sure you eat a good amount of fresh fruit every day.

      April 27, 2012 at 08:56 | Report abuse |
  16. Jennifer

    Whether or not there is any relation to memory, strawberries do have a variety of vitamins and fiber. Unfortunately the berries grown here in California where I live are really quite tasteless!

    April 26, 2012 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bellenoitr

      And the ones we got in New England from California all winter long were very tasty. California is a huge state. Maybe they ship out the best ones. We have NE native strawberries coming out soon, though they may be hampered by not enough rain this spring. They are the tastiest and sweetest of all.

      April 27, 2012 at 08:59 | Report abuse |
  17. Geet

    Worth exploring herbs like Himalayas mentat, brahmi and ashwagandha. Proven to have protective effects right from middle age years. Also, lesser aluminum exposure in baking, cooking, the better it is for general health. Use Pyrex for baking instead and stainless steel for cooking. Again proven to ward off dementia in the long term if less Al is used.

    April 27, 2012 at 06:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Jorge

    You can eat whatever you like, but three of the main causes of mental decompensation are hanging out in toxic places, among toxic people, thinking toxic thoughts. There are places that are not worth living/working in, people who are not worth dealing with and things that are not worth fretting about. Be alert, alive and happy.

    April 27, 2012 at 07:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Bails

    Be sure to buy organic berries....or better yet, grow your own! Strawberries produced at mass farms are sprayed with up to 14 different pesticides! And a strawberry is NOT supposed to be the size of a golf ball!! Strawberries are a smaller fruit. Buy it that way!

    April 27, 2012 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Meyer C. Dhoates

    I forgot why I am here.

    April 27, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Max Brooks

    Marijuana has been shown to help prevent or slow Alzheimers. It probably sounds counter-intuitive but the research is there. Just google it.

    April 27, 2012 at 16:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. trent

    hi

    April 27, 2012 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. t8ot

    You forgot a word. Not enough berries in your diet, EH?!

    "There's no reason think that results would be different in men"

    April 27, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, M.D.,NSCA-CPT

    I want to believe...I want to believe...but I am a Stanford University postdoctoral fellowship certified research consultant and a major drug company could never get a study it funded published in a credible medical journal. Funded by the California Strawberry Commission sounds like a conflict of interest to me. Fortunately, there are other studies that promote the impact of antioxidant dark fruit and berries on human cognitive function!

    April 27, 2012 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Mark Smith

    Berries are expensive. Poor people can't afford to buy berries everyday. All this study shows is that rich people avoid memory loss simply because they can afford expensive healthier food ... berries may not have anything to do with it.

    April 28, 2012 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.