Blueberry extract and strawberry extract may protect the brain from aging and from radiation

July 13, 2006

Extracts from blueberries and strawberries could protect against the free radical damage to the brain seen with aging. They may even protect astronauts from the extreme radiation they encounter in space according to the results of this NASA (partially) funded study. Scientists at both Tufts University and the University of Maryland divided rats into three equal groups and supplemented two of the groups with either a 2% blueberry or a 2% strawberry extract for two months. At this point half the rats from each group were exposed to a radioactive metal isotope to inflict the type of free radical damage that causes cognitive decline and decreases mobility with aging. This type of radioactive exposure causes deterioration in the brain that affects cognitive function, motor performance (movement, balance, and coordination), learning and memory according to research and it is used in brain aging research. The rats not supplemented with either the blueberry or the strawberry extract had a significant reduction in learning and dopamine release in the brain was impaired. The rats on the blueberry extract had an improvement of reversal learning; learning if something is good or bad for them and then learning the opposite. This reversal learning is dependent on a healthy striatal region of the brain; an area involved with balance, walking, movement, and executive function (planning, abstract thinking and problem solving, appropriate behavior, inhibiting inappropriate behavior, filtering out irrelevant sensory input, etc). The striatum is dependent on the neurotransmitter dopamine. The strawberry extract supplemented rats had seemed to have protection in the hippocampal area of the brain. This region of the brain is important for memory and learning. The research has implications for treating diseases associated with cognitive decline including Parkinson?s disease and Alzheimer?s disease. The researchers claim that the radioactive isotope used in the rat brains resembles that encountered in space and that the fruit extracts may be used in the future to protect astronauts from radiation encountered in space. The research is published in the early, on-line, ahead of print version of the journal Neurobiology of Aging.

Commentary by Jerry Hickey, R.Ph.

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