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The Science Behind “Brainberries” The Age-Defying Power of Antioxidants – Part One

Posted Jul 06 2010 12:45pm
By Ian Robinson 07/06/2010

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The Age-Defying Power of Antioxidants – Part One

Berries Boost Brain Power

Our mental functions slow down as we age. Our focus weakens with each passing year. We lose memory clarity. That’s because oxidative stress ravages our mental systems across the decades. And our brains lose nutrients for prime function.

But antioxidants can help reverse this damage. The right combination of foods can replace the nutrients we lose. They can even prevent memory loss.

THB panel expert Dr. Al Sears says, “Feed your brain [what] it needs. You can maintain and even improve your brain function… no matter how old you are.”

You can find antioxidants in everyday food. Simple store-bought berries are a rich source. Studies show that blueberries “increase health and enhance cognitive function in aging.”

The first step to restoring brain power is simple. It can be as easy as adding fresh blueberries to your yogurt at breakfast time.

How Our Brains Age

Most experts agree about the cause of mental decline. Decline is caused by oxidative stress or free radical damage to the brain.

“There is strong evidence that oxidative stress participates in neurodegenerative diseases,” says Dr. M. M. Rahman, a researcher for Niigata University in Japan.

According to Dr. James A. Joseph, another expert on cognitive decline, “Ample research indicates that age-related neuronal decrements are the result of oxidative stress.”

Dr. Joseph has published several papers on cognitive decline. He also runs a research lab at Tufts University. "Oxidative stress and inflammation are the evil twins of brain aging," he says.

In 1999, Dr. Joseph published a landmark study on the subject in the Journal of Neuroscience. His study revealed that blueberries reversed mental aging. Dr. Joseph took four groups of rats and fed them a normal diet. Three of the groups were given strawberry, spinach, or blueberry extracts. Over the course of 18 weeks, he tested the rats for coordination and mental functioning.

The blueberry group performed best on the coordination tests. This group also showed improved neuron functioning. His research led him to nickname blueberries “brainberries.” He has since released several other studies on the subject.

The Science behind “Brainberries”

“Our previous study [showed] that rats given high antioxidant[s] retarded declines in cognitive function,” says Dr. Joseph.

Blueberries produce antioxidant effects. These limit cellular damage created by free radicals of oxygen. They block pathways by which oxidative stress damages cells.

Blueberries also function as anti-inflammatory agents to protect brain integrity.

Subsequent studies also discussed a further benefit of blueberries. They are rich in phytochemicals. 

“Antioxidant-rich foods reverse the course of [mental] aging,” says Dr. Joseph. They work on a molecular level. They signal pathways to turn vital genes on or off in brain cells. This makes brain cells respond to messages from other cells. They can also promote the growth of new nerve cells.

His findings are supported by several other independent studies. Dr. M. A. Papandreou conducted research for the University of Patras, Greece that examined the effect of blueberries on mental performance. His findings also “stress the critical impact of blueberries on brain function.”

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Packing a Punch

It’s clear that blueberries are good for you. But they can be even better.

The trick is to eat them with certain foods.

These foods should be rich in fats. At the top of the list are walnuts and avocado. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. That makes blueberries and walnuts a powerful combination. These foods promote youthful flexibility in brain cell membranes.

Brain cell membrane flexibility is more important than it sounds. You see, every thought begins with a transaction across a brain cell membrane. These membranes are host to a wide array of receptors, which are the gateways to nerve cells.

However, receptors become less effective over time. Our membranes become rigid as we age. That’s why it’s important to eat foods that promote membrane flexibility.

"Polyphenols in berries and fatty acids in walnuts fluidize the cell membrane," says Dr. Joseph. "They make it responsive to a wide array of signals." This increases the efficiency of those transactions.

Walnuts have another good effect on brain health. They also block disease-causing inflammation in our cells. Recent research links inflammation to Alzheimer’s disease, so reducing inflammation is important to promote better mental function. It might even reverse Alzheimer’s disease.

"All this is reversible," says Dr. Joseph. “Adding walnuts and berries to the diet could delay the onset of the diseases of aging.”

Scheduling Your Brain Fuel

According to Elizabeth Somer, M.A., a registered dietitian with over 25 years of experience, breakfast is essential for a fast brain.

“Every food you choose is an opportunity to either nourish or neglect your health,” she says. “Choose health and you will be amazed how your body will repay you.”

She says that people who eat breakfast are more mentally alert. They remember more, react quicker, and are more creative. This first meal delivers fuel to the brain after fasting all night.

She also recommends a light lunch rich in protein, fruit and veggies. She advises stocking up on five to nine servings of fruits and veggies. That’s because they’re packed with antioxidants.

But you can also super-charge your brain by eating delicious snacks during the day. You can build these snacks around breakfast and lunch. A great way to go is to combine antioxidant-rich foods.

Combo Snacks Deliver Super Benefits

Dr. Joseph says there are many foods which help improve brain function. When combined they deliver a super antioxidant punch. "The effects of natural combinations such as walnuts and blueberries are powerful," he says.

These “trail-mix” combinations are easy and convenient. You can pack them and take them with you. So even on busy days you can get those all-important antioxidants.

Try a handful of blackberries and mix them with almonds. Wash them down with green tea. All three are packed with antioxidants.

Or, switch it up and go for strawberries and pecans. These are both rich in antioxidants. The best thing is antioxidants don’t just boost brain power. They promote overall good health.

To your health,

Ian Robinson,
Managing Editor, Total Health Breakthroughs

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