Scientists from Norwich Medical School found that eating cranberries for 12 weeks could improve memory function in older people.
Cranberry is an evergreen shrub that grows in wet habitats in the Northeastern and North Central parts of the United States.
Historically, cranberry fruits or leaves were used for bladder, stomach, and liver disorders, as well as diabetes, wounds, and other conditions.
Today, cranberry is most commonly promoted for urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Aging is strongly linked to cognitive decline and some risk factors such as diet may help prevent this process.
Recent research has found that specific dietary components and in particular, (poly)phenol-rich fruits such as berries provide protection against age-related neurodegeneration.
Neurodegeneration is a slow and progressive loss of neuronal cells in specified regions of the brain and is the main pathologic feature of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
However, the impact of cranberries on cognitive brain function in older people remains unclear.
In the study, the team examined the effect of cranberry powder on cognitive function in 60 older adults aged between 50 and 80 years.
Half of the participants ate freeze-dried cranberry powder, equivalent to a cup or 100g of fresh cranberries, daily for 12 weeks. The other half consumed a placebo.
The participants finished cognitive tests, including memory and executive function tests. Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control.
The team examined neuroimaging and blood samples before and after the cranberry intervention to assess the impact of daily cranberry eating on cognition and brain function.
They found that eating cranberries for 12 weeks was linked to improvements in visual episodic memory in aged people.
Human visual episodic memory is remarkable, variously described as massive, invariant, and explicit:
Respectively, storing a large number of objects, able to recognize an object despite changes in appearance and viewing conditions, and able to discriminate between objects that are different but share visual properties.
The team also found a strong decrease in the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol during the 12 weeks of cranberry eating.
LDL (low-density lipoprotein), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol, makes up most of the body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol raise the risk for heart disease and stroke.
In addition, changes in brain activity in the right entorhinal cortex were found between the cranberry and control groups.
The entorhinal cortex (EC) is an area of the brain’s allocortex, located in the medial temporal lobe, whose functions include being a widespread network hub for memory, navigation, and the perception of time.
These findings suggest that eating cranberry every day (equivalent to 1 small cup of cranberries) over a 12-week period improves episodic memory performance and neural functioning.
The team says future work needs to see if cranberries help manage or reduce brain disease symptoms in older people.
The research was published in Frontiers in Nutrition and was conducted by Emma Flanagan et al.
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