The strong berry colors in gardens and markets are now shining toward us again. Exactly these colors also contain the amazing healthy effect of the small fruits. Scientists have now discovered how just a handful of red berries a week protects our brain…
James Joseph is one of the most renowned neuroscientists in the world, teaches at Tufts University in Boston – and is a self-confessed berry fan. His favorite variety is the small, blue, and deliciously sweet blueberries. For breakfast in muesli, as dessert in fruit salad, spooned with coffee – they are on his menu every day. Even his students keep hearing, “Eat blueberries!”
Almost 6,000 kilometers away, in Oldenburg in Lower Saxony, the molecular biologist Christiane Richter-Landsberg is concerned with something completely different: the German population is getting older and older. And rapidly: by 2030, the group of people over 80 will more than double. And one of the main concerns of medicine will be preserving the brain function that inevitably declines with age. “It has been recognized that the number of neurodegenerative diseases is increasing in the aging population and that this represents a serious social problem,” explains Richter-Landsberg.
Red berries: the best fuel for our brains
What do these two stories have to do with each other? Well: Both scientists are looking for a way to keep our aging brains healthy for as long as possible. and dr Joseph seems to have found the solution: his beloved blueberries. When he examined his favorite fruit in a study, he found that colorful, but especially red berries are apparently able to improve the functioning of the aging brain and slow down mental decline. Rats whose brains were artificially aged were significantly better protected from neuronal degradation than a comparison group when they ate blueberries and strawberries for a month. The conclusion of the study: The fruit must contain a substance that helps the brain to heal itself.
How the little fruits activate the garbage chute in our heads
Autophagy is what neurologists call the brain’s ability to protect itself from harm by eliminating toxic waste products. It’s like a garbage truck that breaks down and recycles cellular components and takes away the toxic waste in our heads. If this process does not function properly, the brain cannot rid itself of cellular waste such as toxic proteins. Eventually, they clump together – with serious consequences, as the professor of molecular neurobiology explains: “In the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease and other diseases that are associated with memory loss or movement disorders, there are pathological deposits of proteins observed, typical clumps of protein,” says Prof. Richter-Landsberg. Understanding the autophagy mechanism and providing targeted support is therefore something like the holy grail of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research. And brightly colored, but especially red, berries apparently promote autophagy and thus prevent brain aging.
This effect was also confirmed by a study by Harvard University in Boston. “It’s the largest study ever conducted on this topic,” said Elizabeth Devore, epidemiologist and study leader. For the Nurses Health Studies, which has been running since 1976, she and her team surveyed 120,000 nurses at regular intervals about their lifestyle and health. The frequency of diseases was also related to diet. And extensive cognitive tests made it clear: there is a clear connection between the lifelong consumption of berries and mental fitness in old age. “A reduction in memory loss can be observed, especially in women who regularly eat red berries such as strawberries or blueberries,” explains Dr. DeVore “And only with a relatively small change in diet.” The result of the Harvard researchers: Anyone who eats a portion (200 grams) of blueberries once a week or a portion of strawberries twice a week delays the natural aging processes by up to two and a half years, and the Parkinson’s rate is reduced by 40 percent.
Why the berry dye is a model for Parkinson’s drugs
But what is the secret of the berries that gives them such an immense effect? The magic word is “flavonoids”. If we take this plant substance with food, it gets into the bloodstream. “Our studies show that flavonoids, especially a special group of them, the anthocyanins, have a neuroprotective effect,” says Xiang Gao of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments that give the berries their characteristic reddish or blue, sometimes almost black color. Your advantage: You easily cross the blood-brain barrier and can thus unfold their full healing power in the brain.
Because the metabolism of anthocyanins is a highly complex process that has not yet been fully deciphered, here is a summary of what the anthocyanins do: With a portion of berries a day, they not only ensure that new nerve cells are created in the brain during what is known as neurogenesis. They also stimulate signal transmission between the already existing neurons. This has a positive effect on both the ability to move and the ability to think: A loss of memory is massively counteracted. At the same time, the reaction time improves by a full six percent, spatial memory improves, and balance and coordination skills benefit. In addition, enzymes that inhibit important neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, or adrenaline are switched off – exactly this mechanism is also mimicked in antidepressants or anti-Parkinson drugs. And: The anthocyanins protect the brain cells from certain proteins, the beta-amyloids, which are suspected of triggering Alzheimer’s. if dr So when Joseph in Boston today admonishes his students: “Eat blueberries!”, hardly anyone shakes their head at this odd recommendation. But on the contrary…