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Blueberries & Improved Memory
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Blueberries are fruits of a shrub that belongs to the heath family. Cousins of the blueberry include the cranberry and the azalea. Blueberries are native to North America, and there are over 30 species of this plant. They are in season in the U.S. from May-October. One-half cup of fresh blueberries contains approximately 40 calories and 2 grams of dietary fiber. One-half cup of blueberries also provides approximately 15% of the daily value of vitamin C and 10% of the daily value of manganese.
Blueberries are high in phytochemicals, which are substances that promote health and help the body to fight disease. These berries contain different types of phytochemicals. One class of phytochemicals that they have is referred as anthocyanins. These substances provide the blue/red pigments found in blueberries. They are antioxidants which can neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues. Through this mechanism, they can improve the functioning of the circulatory system and have been found to enhance the effects of vitamin C.
Blueberries also contain a phytochemical called pterostilbene. This compound may help lower cholesterol and fight cancer. Another antioxidant compound found in blueberries is ellagic acid, which may block pathways that can cause cancer. Some studies have suggested that phenol compounds in this fruit can help reduce colon cancer risk.
Blueberries also contain pectin, a soluble form of fiber that is known to reduce blood cholesterol.
In work from Tufts University, blueberries were found to be highest in antioxidant potential of the 60 fruits and vegetables that they studied. Other work done by Tufts University, in conjunction with the US Department of Agriculture, has shown improvements in short-term memory, balance, and coordination in mature rats fed a diet containing blueberry extract. Spanish researchers at the University of Barcelona noted that after 8 weeks of feeding rats blueberries, there was a reversal of aged-related decline in the rats' ability to find their way through a water maze. In this study, it was determined that the beneficial compounds in blueberries, including several types of anthocyanins, were found in the brain tissue of the rats fed the blueberry containing diet, and that these compounds were not present in the control group rats. This investigation demonstrated that the antioxidants in blueberries can cross the blood-brain barrier and collect in areas of the brain that are important for learning and memory.
Blueberries do have a measurable quantity of oxalic acid, which is a substance that can be found in kidney stones and gallstones. Those with a history of kidney stones or gallbladder disease should be careful not to overindulge in blueberries.The following research studies have evaluated the possible beneficial properties of blueberries: