Forget Viagra. Forget red wine. Anyone seeking to really feel young again should try blueberries, research on rats suggests. Old rats fed the equivalent of a cup of blueberries a day not only were more coordinated, but were smarter than other old rats. Researchers are now working to find out just what it is in blueberries that repairs the damage ageing does to the brain. In the meantime, they are eating blueberries themselves.
Researchers found that rats fed spinach and strawberries learned better than rats on a standard diet. Then they threw a blueberry extract into the diet. The rats who got the supplement not only learned faster than other rats, but their motor skills improved.
There were a lot of changes in neuronal communication ? the ability of one neuron to communicate with one another, but what struck the researchers was the ability to change motor behavior. There is virtually nothing out there that can change motor behavior in ageing. But the blueberries did.
The rats were 19 months old, they are the equivalent of 60 to 65 years of age and the researchers feed them for two months so they're up to 70-75. The blueberry fed rats did better on standard rat tests, like making them swim in a water maze, or find an underwater platform in murky water. But they also did better on tests involving a spinning rod or an inclined rod ? good tests of coordination.
Young rats six months old could stay on a rod an average of 14 seconds. Old rats fell off after six seconds, but the blueberry-supplemented old rats could stay on for 10. The blueberries did not make the rats young again, but did improve their skills considerably. When the rats' brains were examined, the brain cells of the rats that got the blueberries communicated better.
The researchers are doing tests to see what compounds in the blueberries are responsible for the effects. Other scientists have found that the components that give fruits and vegetables their color ? such as the lycopene that makes tomatoes red ? are associated with health-giving effects. One of things they might be doing is to protect against oxidative stress. Oxidation occurs all the time in the body and is cell damage created by charged particles known as free radicals. They also may reduce inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables are loaded with antioxidants, which range from the resveratrol found in red wine, the anthocyanins that make strawberries red and blueberries blue, and the vitamins A, C and E. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The rats ate supplements made from blueberry juice, but the researchers think the whole fruit may confer even more benefits. You can't overdose on blueberries.
Journal of Neuroscience September 1999
Dr. Mercola's Comment:
I find it amazing that these benefits were observed in rats that were fed fruit juice. Blueberries are low in sugar so their juice would not likely stimulate severe insulin swings. However, the researchers clearly understood that the entire whole blueberry would be more beneficial. Most will know of the benefits of grape seed extract for it powerful antioxidant action.
Well, the blueberry also has similar proanthocyanidins that most likely provide similar, if not even more profound benefits. The European blueberry, bilberry, is one of the most potent substances known to prevent and even reverse the most common cause of blindness, macular degeneration.
Unfortunately, blueberries are hard to grow, as they require a very acid soil. I am in my second year of trying to grow some and I have only been able to grow three while about 25 plants have died probably as a result of adding too much acid to the soil. Eventually, I will get it right so I will have a huge crop of organic blueberries in my back yard. In the meantime, I will be purchasing frozen whole blueberries on a regular basis, not only for their taste but also for their amazing health benefits.
Update: We now carry delicious and convenient Wild Blueberry IQ Softgel Capsules in our store that are made from whole fresh blueberries -- and contain 40mg of potent disease fighting anthocyanins per capsule -- more than any other available supplement!