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Previous research has found that the addition of berries to a diet offers some protection against excess inflammation in humans, and improves cognitive function/behavior in stressed lab rats, but the exact mechanisms behind these effects have remained somewhat unclear, until now. New research from Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University and University of Maryland Baltimore County has found that berries greatly improve the ability of the brain to clear away toxic accumulation.


The research was done by feeding some laboratory rats a berry diet for a period of 2 months and monitoring their brains after exposing some of the them to irradiation. “All of the rats were fed berries 2 months prior to radiation and then divided into two groups- one was evaluated after 36 hours of radiation and the other after 30 days.

“After 30 days on the same berry diet, the rats experienced significant protection against radiation compared to control,” stated researcher Shibu Poulose, PhD. “We saw significant benefits to diets with both of the berries, and speculate it is due to the phytonutrients present.”

“The researchers looked at neurochemical changes in the brain, in particular what is known as autophagy, which can regulate the synthesis, degradation and recycling of cellular components. It is also the way in which the brain clears toxic accumulations.”

“Most diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have shown an increased amount of toxic protein. Berries seem to promote autophagy, the brain’s natural housekeeping mechanism, thereby reducing the toxic accumulation,” stated Poulose.

Most of the brain damage that results from physical trauma (such as with concussions), is also as a result of toxic accumulations building up in the brain. It’d be interesting to know if the addition of berries to the diet could help in that regard. Could certainly be beneficial knowledge to the athletes that participate in sports where concussions are regular or semi-regular occurrences.

A human study is currently being conducted by the researchers on people between the ages of 60-75. “We have a lot of animal work that suggests these compounds will protect the aged brain and reverse some of behavioral deficits. We are hoping it will translate to human studies as well,” said Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, the lead investigator conducting the human study.

I’m never really that sure what to think of studies like this. Everyone already has an almost innate recognition of berries as food, and as “healthy”, it seems a bit obvious that they would contribute to the functioning of a healthy body, why experiment on the rats with radiation at all? Couldn’t the researchers have simply started with human-based subjects?

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Image Credit: Berries via Flickr CC

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