Book ReviewVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 27

Can a cup of cranberries a day keep dementia at bay?

Healthy older adults who regularly eat cranberries may see better memory and brain function, plus lower cholesterol at the same time, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, found that people ages 50 to 80 who ate the equivalent of a cup of fresh cranberries a day for 12 weeks saw significant improvement in their memory of everyday events. At the same time, the people in the study saw greater flow of oxygen and glucose to important parts of the brain that support memory.

The findings are “very encouraging,” says lead researcher David Vauzour, PhD, especially since the cranberry “intervention” only lasted 12 weeks and yet was able to generate significant improvements in both memory and brain function. But he cautions that the study only included healthy older people. So it is not known whether the memory-boosting effect of cranberries will translate to adults who already have memory problems, says Vauzour, of the University of East Anglia Norwich Medical School in the United Kingdom.

Cranberries grow on vines in freshwater bogs, mostly in the northern United States and southern Canada. They are packed with micronutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give the berries their red color and have been found to improve thinking skills. They can be eaten dried or put into foods like smoothies.

But a word of caution: Earlier research found that drinking cranberry juice didn’t improve thinking skills. While drinking cranberry juice can have health benefits, many products come with large amounts of added sugar. They are also often diluted with water, meaning you have to drink more to see the benefits of the berries.

In the current study, not only did 12 weeks of eating cranberries daily improve memory and brain function, it also lowered “bad” LDL cholesterol, known to add to plaque buildup in arteries. This suggests that cranberries can improve the health of blood vessels, including those in the brain.