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