At the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, the neuroscience laboratory is trying to answer those questions.
Several studies have suggested that oxidative stress or the production of excess reactive oxygen species (ROS) is associated with a loss of neuronal functioning, and may, in part, be associated with declines in memory and cognitive function that occur with aging. Diets rich in antioxidants and anti- inflammatory compounds are thought to be a promising approach to help reduce the deleterious effects of brain aging from ROS.
Tufts neuroscientists reported their preliminary findings when they supplemented aged rodents diets with 1-2% strawberry extract, then evaluated them on several memory and behavioral tests to compare before and after results to a control group of animals of the same age that consumed a normal chow diet. With 1-2% strawberry supplementation in the diet, the aged rodents performed better on all tests to measure memory and cognitive function compared to the control rodents. The studies found that strawberry supplementation was equally beneficial as the same percentage of blueberry extract added to the diet.
Currently in the second year of a three-year project, the researchers are further studying the mechanisms by which strawberry anthocyanins, the flavonoid pigments, are neuro-protective. Anthocyanins may help protect the neuronal cells from reactive oxygen species (ROS), inhibiting inflammation and impacting neuronal cell signaling that are linked to declines in cognitive function. Through additional studies that are able to evaluate the regional localization of the strawberry compounds on the animals’ brain, the researchers are assessing the mechanisms involved in the motor and cognitive benefits found with strawberries to gain more insight into exactly how strawberry bioactives influence the brain.
Joseph JA. The USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, MA.