Embargoed for release: Monday, August 23, 1:05 p.m., Eastern Time
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Scientists today reported the first evidence that eating blueberries, strawberries, and acai berries may help the aging brain stay healthy in a crucial but previously unrecognized way. Their study, presented at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), concluded that berries, and possibly walnuts, activate the brain’s natural “housekeeper” mechanism, which cleans up and recycles toxic proteins linked to age-related memory loss and other mental decline.
Shibu Poulose, Ph.D., who presented the report, said previous research suggested that one factor involved in aging is a steady decline in the body’s ability to protect itself against inflammation and oxidative damage. This leaves people vulnerable to degenerative brain diseases, heart disease, cancer, and other age-related disorders.
“The good news is that natural compounds called polyphenolics found in fruits, vegetables and nuts have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect that may protect against age-associated decline,” said Poulose, who is with the U. S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston. Poulose did the research with James Joseph, Ph.D., who died June 1. Joseph, who headed the laboratory, pioneered research on the role of antioxidants in fruits and nuts in preventing age-related cognitive decline.
Poulose and Joseph focused on another reason why nerve function declines with aging. It involves a reduction in the brain’s natural house-cleaning process. Cells called microglia are the housekeepers. In a process called autophagy, they remove and recycle biochemical debris that otherwise would interfere with brain function.