Can blueberry juice boost your memory?

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It’s hard to find fresh blueberries this time of year, but you might consider buying blueberry juice, particularly if you’re having chronic trouble remembering where you put the car keys. According to a small new study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, drinking blueberry juice can actually improve your memory.

The study included just 16 participants, average age 78, who were recruited in the Cincinnati area. Nine volunteers were asked to drink about two cups of blueberry juice every day for 12 weeks. While all participants experienced age-related cognitive problems, the blueberry-juice drinkers showed significantly better performance on two memory tests than a control group of seven participants who drank a sweet placebo beverage that contained no juice. What’s more, the juice drinkers’ test scores had improved by the end of the 12 weeks. In case you were wondering, all that juice also didn’t make them fatter.

The study, the first of its kind, is provocative because we still have no cure for dementia or other age-related memory problems that will plague millions of Baby Boomers as they get older. Consuming blueberry juice may be a way to prevent or delay the onset of such problems; past animal studies have also associated the berries with better memory. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants like anthocyanins that help counter inflammation, which research suggests contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. Anthocyanins have also been associated with increased neuronal signaling in the brain, according to the new paper, which may help explain why the blueberry-juice drinkers were able to improve their memory scores.

One caveat: Although the study was conducted independently at the University of Cincinnati and received National Institutes of Health funding, it was also partly funded by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, a trade group that no doubt would be very happy if you decided to buy blueberry juice as a result of the study.

Whether or not blueberry juice can actually help keep your mind sharp, doctors and nutritionists agree that blueberries are an all-around good-for-you food. They’re packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, potassium and vitamin C, and studies show they can lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. — By John Cloud