Who doesn’t love blueberries? They are, for the most part, sweet, they go with just about everything, and, for us lucky Californians, they are almost always in season. They contain long-worded substances such as antioxidants, anthocyanidins, and flavonoids, making them rank with such superfoods as acai berries and kale. So when a study demonstrating that blueberries improve memory is published in an academic journal, we have yet another reason to partake in the blue fruity fest.
The headline, “Blueberry Concentrate Improves Brain Function in Older People” does sound enticing. But let’s dig a little deeper into the study itself, before we invest in blueberry pie stocks. First of all, blueberries are, indeed, good for you. They have some vitamins, a little bit of fiber, and the purported antioxidant called a flavonoid. The specific flavonoid in blueberries is anthocyanidin. It remains to be determined whether or not flavonoids, a known plant pigment, are absorbed enough in the human body to have any antioxidant effect at all, but let’s just say that they do. And regardless of the mechanism of action, the study showed that blueberries improved memory.
Let’s dig a little deeper still. There were 26 subjects in the study, 12 of whom were given daily concentrated blueberry extract for 12 weeks; 14 of whom received placebo. After the 12-week period, the blueberry juicers showed more blood flow to their brain on MRI scans, and improvement in some aspects of working memory. All good!
Now let’s keep digging. This was a small study. Unless the group without blueberry juice had demonstrated complete absence of any cognitive function compared to the juicers, there is no way any significance could be reached. Good study, but a small one. Too small for any strong statistically significant data.
And the final dig: The study was sponsored by a company called CherryActive, Ltd., which kindly provided the blueberry extract to the participants. We commend the authors for disclosing this conflict, yet we as readers need to come up from the heavenly blueberry patch of brain activity and memory, and remember to take the whole thing with a large grain of blueberry extract.