Blueberry and Pomegranate: Berries to Boost Your Brain
Written By Nicole Crane, BS, NTP
Few other fruits have as rich a history as the pomegranate. Pomegranates have been used medicinally and as a symbol of fertility, abundance, prosperity and new beginnings. There is evidence that can trace the cultivation of pomegranates back over 5000 years, and it has a strong presence in literature and in historical and religious texts and art. Native to the Middle East, its skin is tough but thin, and the pith that holds the hundreds of pomegranate seeds is very bitter and inedible. Many who seek the health benefits and wonderful sweet-tart flavor that pomegranate delivers have found the best of both worlds in supplemental pomegranate fruit extracts.
Blueberries, to the contrary, are among the few fruits native to North America. The U.S. produces over half of the world's blueberries and it is the second most consumed berry by Americans.
Health Benefits of Blueberries and Pomegranate
When comparing exotic and native, both fruits have achieved "super fruit" status. Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other impressive phytonutrients, blueberries and pomegranates have similar power on the ORAC scale. The ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) number is a measure of the strength of an antioxidant’s ability to neutralize damaging free radicals - the higher, the better. Pomegranates measures 4479 while blueberries have a value of 4669.ii It is the strength of these antioxidants that make these fruits such a powerful force for good health.
Blueberries and pomegranates are rich in a number of phytonutrients that have powerful antioxidant and inflammation regulating properties. Notably, both fruits are an excellent source of anthocyanins, flavonols, ellagic acid, ferullic acid, resveratrol and more. In terms of nutrients, blueberries and pomegranates are an excellent source of potassium, Vitamin K1, Vitamin C and fiber, while being low glycemic (won't raise blood sugar!) and low in calories.iii In addition, pomegranates contain specific antioxidants called punicalagins, found in the juice and punicic acid, found in the seed oil. These colorful fruits are a wonderful supporter of immune function, cardiovascular health and cognition, in addition to balancing blood sugar, and supporting healthy vision.iv
As antioxidants, these two berries (yes, pomegranates are classified as a berry!) are exceptional supporters of memory and cognitive function. Our nerves are subject to free radical and oxidative damage hundreds of times per day. This damage leads to immune and inflammation activation and over time can age the brain (and the rest of the body) at the cellular level. Antioxidants protect our nerves and all our other cells from oxidative damage by allowing themselves to be broken down, sparing our DNA and other tissues. Antioxidants are martyrs for oxidative damage - the stronger, the better. By protecting vulnerable nerve cells in the brain from oxidative damage, those brain cells function much better and even live longer. Oxidative damage prevents proper nerve cell to cell communication, which impedes memory, focus, mood, sleep and even coordination. By lowering the load of oxidative stress on brain cells, the spectrum of antioxidants (like those in blueberries and pomegranates) support optimal nerve cell function and healthy cognitive functioning. Reducing inflammation in the brain also supports the production of feel good neurotransmitters, supporting positive mood and healthy sleep cycles.
Healthy Brain Function and Memory
As one grows older, it becomes especially important to take steps to protect memory and brain function. A 2013 study of middle aged and older adults with mild memory impairment showed pomegranate juice to be highly beneficial. Thirty-two subjects received either 8oz. of pomegranate juice daily or a pomegranate flavored placebo for 4 weeks. Before and after the study, participants were assessed cognitively using memory testing and functional brain activation scans. At the end of the 4 week trial, the pomegranate group only showed significant improvement in cognitive assessments of verbal memory and overall brain function. The pomegranate group also had a marked improvement in blood levels of antioxidants and other functional phytonutrients. The placebo group did not experience the same benefits, suggesting that pomegranate plays an important role in improving memory and task related functional brain activity.v
Blueberries also support brain function and healthy memory. A 2010 study of older adults with early stage cognitive decline examined the effects of blueberry juice on memory. The study participants drank either wild blueberry juice or a berry placebo for 12 weeks. While the placebo group experienced little to no memory improvement, the blueberry group experienced a substantial improvement in paired associate learning as well as word list recall. This shows that blueberries help nerve cells communicate better. The blueberry group also experienced a reduction in depression and lower, healthier glucose levels.vi Improved mood reflects the inflammation modulating ability of blueberries, while lower glucose levels reflect steadier energy usage in the brain, which can have significant positive effects on overall cognitive function and mental stamina. The anthocyanins and other antioxidants in blueberries and pomegranates have been linked to increased nerve signaling in the brain, improved memory as well as more efficient removal of excess glucose (sugar) in the brain, which leads to more balanced brain energy. The combination of these effects supports healthy brain function and likely slows neurodegeneration.
As we age, these two super berries can give you the support to grow older gracefully and perhaps even become a bit wiser as well. When you are looking to protect your brain from age related cognitive decline, look no farther than anthocyanins from pomegranate and blueberry. Add a splash of color to your life and protect your brain from the ravages of time.
v. Bookheimer, Susan Y., et al. "Pomegranate juice augments memory and FMRI activity in middle-aged and older adults with mild memory complaints." Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013 (2013).
vi. Krikorian, Robert, et al. "Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults†." Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 58.7 (2010): 3996-4000.
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