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Nutrition and Health

The # 1 antioxidant, free radicals

Blueberries and Brain Power?

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

August 18, 2002

"My God why did you buy so many blueberries?" my wife exclaimed. But I wasn't about to tell her. I had indeed bought a lot of blueberries driving back from Northern Ontario. I intended to surprise her by writing the great Canadian novel. And wow people at the next dinner party with scintillating remarks. The blueberries were going to do it, of course.

I had good reason to believe I hadn't wasted my money. Several medical reports have labelled blueberries "the # 1 antioxidant". That is, blueberries destroy what's known as "free radicals" the waste products of metabolism.

It's believed that free radicals increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and cause wear and tear on the brain. The more free radicals the more we are subjected to what's called "oxidative stress". And the greater the chance you'll forget where you left your car keys or lose your balance.

Dr James Joseph is Chief of the Neuroscience Lab at the U.S Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tuft's University. He and his colleagues tested blueberries and other fruits to see how they affect the brain and aging.

The result? Blueberries were at the top of the list when tested against 60 other fruits and vegetables.

Dr Joseph reports that blueberries received the highest ORAC score (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). This is a measure of an antioxidant's ability to destroy free radicals.

The only other produce with better scores were prunes and raisins. But these are dried versions of other fruits. Squeezing the water out of a fruit automatically concentrates it's ORAC score so it's not a fair comparison.

But is there any concrete evidence that blueberries decrease the number of free radicals? Researchers at Tufts University fed rats a regular diet, a diet with added vitamin E, a diet with added spinach and one with added blueberries for eight weeks.

The rats were then exposed to pure oxygen for 48 hours which is different than the air we breathe. Pure oxygen causes a marked increase of free radicals in rats and it does the same in humans.

Researchers found that blueberries did a much better job of blocking the adverse effect of the free radicals than spinach or vitamin E.

Other researchers at Tufts, Barbara Shukitt-Hale and her colleagues, tested the effect of blueberries on the learning and motor skills of 19 month old rats. In rats these are the first things to be affected by aging. And testing a 19 month old rat is equivalent to investigating a 60 year old human.

Rats were given their regular diet or one supplemented with either spinach, strawberries or blueberries. They were then subjected to several tests.

Researchers found that blueberry-fed rats were able to remain on a log longer before falling off.

In the next test rats were placed in a pool of cold water with a raft in the center. Since rats don't like cold water they all soon learned the location of the raft and swam to it.

In this experiment it didn't matter whether the rats were fed spinach, strawberries or blueberries. Those on specials diets remembered the location of the platform better than the rats fed a regular diet.

So what's in blueberries that may have an effect on our brains? Blueberries are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals (plant chemicals) called anthocyanins. It's possible that these plant chemicals are more potent than other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E.

Dr. Joseph believes that blueberries and other fruits and vegetables move chemicals into and out of the blood at crucial times in order to prevent damage to cells. But, at the moment there's no concrete clinical evidence that blueberries will make you a genius.

And Dr. Joseph adds this caution. Just as it's prudent to diversify your financial portfolio it's also wise to do the same with fruits and vegetables. For instance, tomatoes have a low ORAC score but are rich in lycopenes which may help to prevent prostate cancer. So don't count solely on blueberries!

Now how have I fared? For weeks I've faithfully had a bowlful of blueberries every morning. I recently said to my wife, "have you noticed anything different lately?" "About what?" she replied. Well, maybe at the next party someone will see the difference. Besides, I've still got a ton blueberries to eat.

"My God why did you buy so many blueberries?" my wife exclaimed. But I wasn't about to tell her. I had indeed bought a lot of blueberries driving back from Northern Ontario. I intended to surprise her by writing the great Canadian novel. And wow people at the next dinner party with scintillating remarks. The blueberries were going to do it, of course.

I had good reason to believe I hadn't wasted my money. Several medical reports have labelled blueberries "the # 1 antioxidant". That is, blueberries destroy what's known as "free radicals" the waste products of metabolism.

It's believed that free radicals increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and cause wear and tear on the brain. The more free radicals the more we are subjected to what's called "oxidative stress". And the greater the chance you'll forget where you left your car keys or lose your balance.

Dr James Joseph is Chief of the Neuroscience Lab at the U.S Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tuft's University. He and his colleagues tested blueberries and other fruits to see how they affect the brain and aging.

The result? Blueberries were at the top of the list when tested against 60 other fruits and vegetables.

Dr Joseph reports that blueberries received the highest ORAC score (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). This is a measure of an antioxidant's ability to destroy free radicals.

The only other produce with better scores were prunes and raisins. But these are dried versions of other fruits. Squeezing the water out of a fruit automatically concentrates it's ORAC score so it's not a fair comparison.

But is there any concrete evidence that blueberries decrease the number of free radicals? Researchers at Tufts University fed rats a regular diet, a diet with added vitamin E, a diet with added spinach and one with added blueberries for eight weeks.

The rats were then exposed to pure oxygen for 48 hours which is different than the air we breathe. Pure oxygen causes a marked increase of free radicals in rats and it does the same in humans.

Researchers found that blueberries did a much better job of blocking the adverse effect of the free radicals than spinach or vitamin E.

Other researchers at Tufts, Barbara ShukittİHale and her colleagues, tested the effect of blueberries on the learning and motor skills of 19 month old rats. In rats these are the first things to be affected by aging. And testing a 19 month old rat is equivalent to investigating a 60 year old human.

Rats were given their regular diet or one supplemented with either spinach, strawberries or blueberries. They were then subjected to several tests.

Researchers found that blueberry-fed rats were able to remain on a log longer before falling off.

In the next test rats were placed in a pool of cold water with a raft in the center. Since rats don't like cold water they all soon learned the location of the raft and swam to it.

In this experiment it didn't matter whether the rats were fed spinach, strawberries or blueberries. Those on specials diets remembered the location of the platform better than the rats fed a regular diet.

So what's in blueberries that may have an effect on our brains? Blueberries are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals (plant chemicals) called anthocyanins. It's possible that these plant chemicals are more potent than other antioxidants such as vitamin C and E.

Dr. Joseph believes that blueberries and other fruits and vegetables move chemicals into and out of the blood at crucial times in order to prevent damage to cells. But, at the moment there's no concrete clinical evidence that blueberries will make you a genius.

And Dr. Joseph adds this caution. Just as it's prudent to diversify your financial portfolio it's also wise to do the same with fruits and vegetables. For instance, tomatoes have a low ORAC score but are rich in lycopenes which may help to prevent prostate cancer. So don't count solely on blueberries!

Now how have I fared? For weeks I've faithfully had a bowlful of blueberries every morning. I recently said to my wife, "have you noticed anything different lately?" "About what?" she replied. Well, maybe at the next party someone will see the difference. Besides, I've still got a ton blueberries to eat.


W. Gifford-Jones M.D Most recent columns

W. Gifford-Jones M.D is the pen name of Dr. Ken Walker graduate of Harvard. Dr. Walker's website is: docgiff.com.
Dr. Walker can be reached at info@docgiff.com















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