As Janelle discovered, berries can have a remarkable power to heal the brain. Animal studies have found that berries—particularly the deep blue-purple kinds—help animals learn improve their memory. When wild blueberry juice was given to nine older adults with memory changes, they demonstrated improved learning, word recall, and even a trend toward better mood after twelve weeks compared with those who drank a berry placebo beverage.
We used to believe that berries had their brain-healing power simply because they were concentrated antioxidants. And indeed, both berries and purple grapes are excellent sources of several antioxidants. Most notably, you have probably heard of resveratrol, a revered antioxidant in deep blue-purple foods that boosts energy and fights aging through its effects on our metabolic pathways.
Over and above the antioxidant effect, however, berries do support cognitive function. Recent research has shown that blueberries and strawberries influence various types of learning and memory, with berry compounds targeting specific regions of the brain.
Blueberries in particular have extraordinary effects on brain function. They promote neuronal plasticity; that is, they help the brain change and grow in response to the demands made upon it. The more you make a conscious effort to learn and remember, the more your brain alters in respond to this activity, and the tiny blueberry provides chemical support for that response.
Blueberries also have cell-signaling effects; that is, they play a role in how cells respond to inflammation. And they are engaged in the communication between neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals that modulate thought and emotion. Here is just a small sample of the exciting research into blue foods and the brain:
- Blueberries support neuronal and cognitive function, protecting the brain against the effects of aging and stress.
- In animal studies, blueberry extracts seemed to improve spatial memory and possibly helped to reverse age-related cognitive and behavioral decline.
- Concord grape juice seemed to support brain function in older humans, improving memory in those with mild memory decline or other types of cognitive impairment.
Support Your Brain Insight While You Eat
- Use your eyes. See the colors of the food you purchase and the food you eat. Give yourself an eyeful before you begin to fill your belly.
- Eat intuitively. The hunches you have about what you need might be wiser than any nutritionist.
- Stay out of ruts. Habits are the enemy of insight and intuition; when you go on autopilot, you aren’t really paying attention. Notice your body’s signals and let them guide your choice of food.
- Meditate before a meal. It helps you clear the mental clutter and come into a place of peace.
- Notice your mood. See which foods change how you feel—whether they bring you calm, joy, or focus or make you more depressed, anxious, aggressive, wired, or foggy
About the Author
Dr. Deanna Minich is a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition (F.A.C.N.), a Certified Nutrition Specialist (C.N.S.), Certified Nutritionist (C.N.), and a Registered Yoga Teacher (R.Y.T.). A resident of Port Orchard, Washington, she is a senior advisor to the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute in Seattle, Washington, and an adjunct professor at the Institute for Functional Medicine, Maryland University of Integrative Health, and the University of Western States.