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Scientists discover a surprising connection between strawberries and dementia risk

In the endless quest for mental acuity as the years advance, middle-aged individuals may find a delightful ally in the strawberry. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In the life-long quest for mental acuity as the years advance, middle-aged people may find a delightful ally in the strawberry, according to the latest research spearheaded by University of Cincinnati's Robert Krikorian, PhD.

As cognitive decline looms as a specter in the halls of aging, this research published in the esteemed journal Nutrients, casts a ray of hope, suggesting that a daily helping of strawberries could be instrumental in warding off dementia in certain demographics.


Extending the Berry Benefit: From Blueberries to Strawberries

Dr. Krikorian, a seasoned professor emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience at the UC College of Medicine, is no stranger to the intersection of nutrition and neurology.

Robert Krikorian, PhD. (CREDIT: University of Cincinnati)

His 2022 research illuminated the cognitive benefits of blueberries in delaying dementia. Building on this berry-based inquiry, Dr. Krikorian's team delved into the potential of strawberries, finding that these fruits might do more than just satiate a sweet tooth.


"Both strawberries and blueberries contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, which have been implicated in a variety of berry health benefits such as metabolic and cognitive enhancements," explains Krikorian. He underscores the significance of consistent consumption: "There is epidemiological data suggesting that people who consume strawberries or blueberries regularly have a slower rate of cognitive decline with aging."

Strawberries bring more than just anthocyanins to the table; they are a trove of ellagitannins and ellagic acid, micronutrients with their own chorus of health accolades. But could these delectable fruits tangibly turn the tides against cognitive deterioration?


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Targeting Middle-Aged Pre-Diabetes: A Cognitive Crossroads

A striking 50% of individuals in the U.S. encounter insulin resistance—often a precursor to diabetes—as they reach their middle years. This condition has been indicted as a culprit in chronic diseases and potentially in cognitive decline. Krikorian's study ventures into largely uncharted waters by examining the cognitive ramifications of strawberry consumption in a prediabetic population.

"This study assessed whether strawberry consumption might improve cognitive performance and metabolic health in this population and, if so, whether there might be an association between cognitive enhancement and reduced metabolic disturbance," Krikorian states, signaling the dual focus of the investigation.


Study Design: A Berry-Specific Intervention

A cohort of 30 overweight participants, aged between 50-65 and experiencing mild cognitive hiccups, stood at the forefront of this study. Their increased risk for dementia made them prime candidates for the intervention, which involved a stringent 12-week regimen where the only permitted berries came in the form of a daily supplement powder mixed with water at breakfast.

After 12 weeks, the strawberry-treated group exhibited fewer intrusion errors on the CVLT, a measure of interference during learning and memory. Lower scores represent better performance. * F(1,27) = 5.69, p = 0.02, Cohen’s f = 0.45. Error bars = SEM. (CREDIT: Journal Nutrients)

In a random divide, half of the group received powders equivalent to a cup of whole strawberries, while the others received a placebo. Cognitive tests probing long-term memory and executive functions were administered, alongside assessments of mood and metabolic health.


Findings: A Cognitive and Emotional Boost

For the strawberry group, the results were promising: diminished memory interference, signaling better executive control, an essential cognitive function. "Reduced memory interference refers to less confusion of semantically related terms on a word-list learning test," elucidates Krikorian. "This phenomenon generally is thought to reflect better executive control in terms of resisting intrusion of non-target words during the memory testing."

After 12 weeks, the strawberry-treated group reported a lower level of depressive symptoms on the Beck Depression Inventory. * F(1, 27) = 4.28, p = 0.04, Cohen’s f = 0.39. Error bars = SEM. (CREDIT: Journal Nutrients)

Moreover, those indulging in strawberries exhibited fewer depressive symptoms. Krikorian interprets this as a likely byproduct of "enhanced executive ability that would provide better emotional control and coping and perhaps better problem-solving."


Contrastingly, metabolic health markers like insulin levels, which were previously shown to improve with higher doses of strawberries in other studies, remained unchanged in this experiment. Krikorian posits that dosage could be a decisive factor.

Mean daily consumption by group for each of the major anthocyanins prior to (wk 0) and during the final week of the study (wk 12). A repeated measures ANOVA indicated that there was no between-group difference in anthocyanin consumption external to the study, F(1,27) = 1.26, p = 0.26, and no change in consumption during the period of intervention F(1,27) = 0.61, p = 0.43. Error bars = SEM. wk = week. (CREDIT: Journal Nutrients)

The observed cognitive uptick may spring from strawberries' anti-inflammatory prowess. "Executive abilities begin to decline in midlife and excess abdominal fat, as in insulin resistance and obesity, will tend to increase inflammation, including in the brain," Krikorian notes. He hypothesizes that the strawberry intake might counteract brain inflammation, thus easing executive function impairments in the study's demographic.


Krikorian calls for expanded research to validate these findings, suggesting that subsequent trials encompass broader participant pools and explore a spectrum of strawberry dosages.

In essence, this study tantalizes with the possibility that strawberries may play a key role in maintaining mental sharpness. However, the message is clear: more berries on the plate could mean more years of cognitive grace. As this research unfolds, the adage of "an apple a day" may soon find its counterpart in the humble strawberry, urging us to reconsider the power packed in our produce aisles.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


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