Summary: Older adults who consumed cranberries frequently as part of their diet saw improvements in episodic memory, neural function, and brain perfusion. Cranberry consumption was also linked to a significant decrease in LDL cholesterol. Findings reveal adding cranberries to the diet helps to improve memory and could protect against dementia.
Source: University of East Anglia
Adding cranberries to your diet could help improve memory and brain function, and lower ‘bad’ cholesterol – according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UK).
A new study published today highlights the neuroprotective potential of cranberries.
The research team studied the benefits of consuming the equivalent of a cup of cranberries a day among 50 to 80-year-olds.
They hope that their findings could have implications for the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.
Lead researcher Dr David Vauzour, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said: “Dementia is expected to affect around 152 million people by 2050. There is no known cure, so it is crucial that we seek modifiable lifestyle interventions, such as diet, that could help lessen disease risk and burden.
“Past studies have shown that higher dietary flavonoid intake is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and dementia. And foods rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give berries their red, blue, or purple colour, have been found to improve cognition.
“Cranberries are rich in these micronutrients and have been recognized for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“We wanted to find out more about how cranberries could help reduce age-related neurodegeneration.”
The research team investigated the impact of eating cranberries for 12 weeks on brain function and cholesterol among 60 cognitively healthy participants.
Half of the participants consumed freeze-dried cranberry powder, equivalent to a cup or 100g of fresh cranberries, daily. The other half consumed a placebo.
The study is one of the first to examine cranberries and their long-term impact on cognition and brain health in humans.
The results showed that consuming cranberries significantly improved the participants’ memory of everyday events (visual episodic memory), neural functioning and delivery of blood to the brain (brain perfusion).
Dr Vauzour said: “We found that the participants who consumed the cranberry powder showed significantly improved episodic memory performance in combination with improved circulation of essential nutrients such as oxygen and glucose to important parts of the brain that support cognition – specifically memory consolidation and retrieval.
“The cranberry group also exhibited a significant decrease in LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, known to contribute to atherosclerosis – the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery. This supports the idea that cranberries can improve vascular health and may in part contribute to the improvement in brain perfusion and cognition.
“Demonstrating in humans that cranberry supplementation can improve cognitive performance and identifying some of the mechanisms responsible is an important step for this research field.
“The findings of this study are very encouraging, especially considering that a relatively short 12-week cranberry intervention was able to produce significant improvements in memory and neural function,” he added.
“This establishes an important foundation for future research in the area of cranberries and neurological health.”
The study was supported by a grant from The Cranberry Institute. It was led by the University of East Anglia in collaboration with researchers at the Leiden University Medical Center (Netherlands), the University of Parma (Italy) and the Quadram Institute (UK).
Chronic consumption of Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) for 12 weeks improves episodic memory and regional brain perfusion in healthy older adults: A randomised, placebo-controlled, parallel-groups study
Background: Ageing is highly associated with cognitive decline and modifiable risk factors such as diet are believed to protect against this process. Specific dietary components and in particular, (poly)phenol-rich fruits such as berries have been increasingly recognised for their protection against age-related neurodegeneration. However, the impact of cranberries on cognitive function and neural functioning in older adults remains unclear.
Design: A 12-week parallel randomised placebo-controlled trial of freeze-dried cranberry powder was conducted in 60 older adults aged between 50 and 80 years. Cognitive assessment, including memory and executive function, neuroimaging and blood sample collection were conducted before and after the intervention to assess the impact of daily cranberry consumption on cognition, brain function and biomarkers of neuronal signalling.
Results: Cranberry supplementation for 12 weeks was associated with improvements in visual episodic memory in aged participants when compared to placebo. Mechanisms of action may include increased regional perfusion in the right entorhinal cortex, the accumbens area and the caudate in the cranberry group. Significant decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol during the course of the intervention was also observed. No significant differences were, however, detected for BDNF levels between groups.
Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that daily cranberry supplementation (equivalent to 1 small cup of cranberries) over a 12-week period improves episodic memory performance and neural functioning, providing a basis for future investigations to determine efficacy in the context of neurological disease.
This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT03679533 and at ISRCTN as ISRCTN76069316.