A diet rich in phytochemicals from berries could help improve brain health in several ways, such as improving communication pathways and protecting against oxidative stress, say researchers.
The study reported that consumption of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berry fruits has beneficial effects on the brain, and could help prevent age-related memory loss and other changes.
The researchers, led by Barbara Shukitt-Hale from the USDA Agricultural Research Service's human nutrition research centre on aging at Tufts University, said that berry fruits possess neuroavailable, neuroactive phytochemicals "that offer antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and direct effects on the brain."
"In addition to their now well-known antioxidant effects, dietary supplementation with berry fruits also has direct effects on the brain. Intake of these fruits may help to prevent age-related neurodegeneration and resulting changes in cognitive and motor function," the researchers added.
The new review analysed the strength of the evidence for the effects from berry fruits. The researchers said they extensively reviewed cellular, animal and human studies on the topic to judge the evidence for the suggested benefits.
The review found that berry fruits could help the brain to remain healthy in several ways, said Shukitt-Hale. The team noted that berry fruits contain high levels of antioxidants that they suggest protect the brain from oxidative stress produced by harmful free radicals.
In addition, the review finds that berries alter the way neurons in the brain communicate. Shukitt-Hale and her colleagues said these changes in signalling can prevent inflammation in the brain that contribute to neuronal damage and improve both motor control and cognition.
Shukitt-Hale and her team suggested that further research will reveal whether these benefits are a result of individual compounds shared between berry fruits or whether the unique combinations of chemicals in each berry fruit simply have similar effects.
"Currently, researchers possess an incomplete picture of the neuroavailability and mechanisms of action for the wide variety of phytochemicals present in berry fruit and their respective metabolites."
"More research is required to demonstrate each constituents' availability and mechanism of action specific to individual brain subregions," they concluded.
Source: Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Study used: "Berry Fruit Enhances Beneficial Signaling in the Brain"