Cranberries may help prevent neurodegenerative diseases

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New research has found that cranberries may help to improve memory and brain function while lowering “bad cholesterol.”

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, was conducted by researchers from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.

While aging is associated with cognitive decline, the study points to how dietary components such as polyphenol-rich fruits such as berries have been recognized for their protection against age-related neurodegeneration. The researchers sought to investigate the impact of cranberries on cognitive function, neural functioning, and cholesterol in older adults.

During a 12-week parallel randomized placebo-controlled trial, one half of 60 cognitively healthy participants between the ages of 50 and 80 years old were given daily freeze-dried cranberry extract, which is the equivalent to a cup of fresh cranberries, according to the study. The other half of the group were given placebo. Cognitive assessment, including memory and executive function, neuroimaging, and blood sample collection were conducted before and after the intervention to assess the impact of daily cranberry consumption on cognition, brain function, and biomarkers of neuronal signaling.

Researchers found significant improvements in episodic memory performance, which coincided with increased perfusion of key neural areas, according to the study.

The results also showed that consuming cranberries significantly improved the participants’ memory of everyday events (visual episodic memory), neural functioning, and delivery of blood to the brain (brain perfusion).

“We found that participants who consumed the cranberry powder showed significantly improved episodic memory performance in combination with improved circulation of essential nutrients such as oxygen and glucose to important parts of the brain that support cognition – specifically memory consolidation and retrieval,” said David Vauzour, PhD, lead researcher from UEA’s Norwich Medical School in a statement.

In addition, Vauzour said the cranberry group also exhibited a significant decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, known to contribute to atherosclerosis – the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.

“This supports the idea that cranberries can improve vascular health and may in part contribute to the improvement in brain perfusion and cognition,” he said.