The study – published in Annals of Neurology – reveals that certain types of berries could help to reduce cognitive decline in older women. The researchers add that high intakes of blueberries and strawberries, both of which are very high in flavonoids, appear to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years when compared to those consuming lower amounts.
"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," said Dr Elizabeth Devore, who led the study at Brigham and Women's Hospital, USA.
"Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."
The research team used data from the Nurses' Health Study – containing data from over 120,000 women. The participants completed health and lifestyle questionnaires beginning in 1976, and have been surveyed on food consumption every four years since 1980.
The study focuses on data from 16,010 women aged over 70, who had their memory and cognitive functions tested every two years between 1995 and 2001.
"What makes our study unique is the amount of data we analyzed over such a long period of time. No other berry study has been conducted on such a large scale," said Devore.
The lead researcher said the results of the analysis show that increased consumption of blueberries and strawberries was associated with a slower rate of memory decline in older women – with a greater intake of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids also associated with slowing memory decline.
Devore revealed that women who had higher berry intake had delayed memory decline by up to 2.5 years.
"Among women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week we saw a modest reduction in memory decline,” she revealed. “This effect appears to be attainable with relatively simple dietary modifications."
However, the authors added that while they did control for other health factors in the analysis, they cannot rule out the possibility that the preserved cognition in those who eat more berries may be also influenced by other lifestyle choices, such as exercising more.
Source: Annals of Neurology
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1002/ana.23594
“Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline”
Authors: E. E. Devore, J.H. Kang, M.M.B. Breteler, F. Grodstein