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11-03-2023

Eating strawberries may lower the risk of dementia

A recent study by the University of Cincinnati has revealed promising connections between strawberry consumption and reduced risk of dementia among certain middle-aged individuals. 

The study, led by Professor Emeritus Robert Krikorian from the UC College of Medicine, builds on earlier research that demonstrated the cognitive benefits of blueberries.

Focus of the study

The focus of this new research was on the unique combination of antioxidants found in strawberries. 

“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,” said Dr. Krikorian. 

“There is epidemiological data suggesting that people who consume strawberries or blueberries regularly have a slower rate of cognitive decline with aging.” 

In addition to containing anthocyanins, Dr. Krikorian noted that strawberries contain additional micronutrients called ellagitannins and ellagic acid that have been associated with health benefits.

Cognitive function and strawberry consumption

Given that around 50% of the U.S. population develops insulin resistance in middle age, a precursor to chronic diseases, the team sought to examine the impact of strawberry intake on cognitive function and metabolic health.

Dr. Krikorian said the metabolic and cardiovascular benefits of strawberry consumption have been studied previously, but there were relatively few studies on its cognitive effects.

“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,” said Dr. Krikorian.

How to study strawberry consumption

The research was focused on 30 heavier individuals aged 50 to 65, all experiencing mild cognitive decline – a group at heightened risk for dementia and other age-related conditions. 

Over 12 weeks, study participants were given a daily packet of supplement powder with their breakfast. One group received powder equivalent to a cup of strawberries, while the other received a placebo.

The results showed that the strawberry group experienced reduced memory interference, indicating improvements in executive function. 

“Reduced memory interference refers to less confusion of semantically related terms on a word-list learning test,” said Dr. Krikorian. “This phenomenon generally is thought to reflect better executive control in terms of resisting intrusion of non-target words during the memory testing.” 

Executive abilities 

Participants in the strawberry group also saw a notable decrease in symptoms of depression. Dr. Krikorian suggests that this may stem from “enhanced executive ability that would provide better emotional control and coping and perhaps better problem-solving.”

The implications of these findings suggest that cognitive enhancements from strawberry consumption may be due to a reduction in brain inflammation, which is often aggravated by conditions such as insulin resistance and obesity commonly found in middle age.

“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,” explained Dr. Krikorian.

“So, one might consider that our middle-aged, overweight, prediabetic sample had higher levels of inflammation that contributed to at least mild impairment of executive abilities. Accordingly, the beneficial effects we observed might be related to moderation of inflammation in the strawberry group.”

Implications for strawberry consumption

This study adds to a growing body of evidence that diet – particularly the intake of certain berries rich in antioxidants – may play a vital role in maintaining cognitive health and reducing the risk of dementia as we age.

Dr. Krikorian emphasizes the need for further research, suggesting future studies should expand participant samples and explore varying dosages of strawberry supplementation to fully understand the fruit’s potential benefits. 

More about strawberries

Strawberries claim a cherished spot in the heart of fruit lovers worldwide. These ruby gems are not only a feast for the eyes but also pack a punch of health benefits and culinary versatility that few other fruits can boast.

Cultivating the perfect berry

Farmers dedicate their springs and summers to cultivating strawberries, nurturing them from tiny white flowers to plump, juicy fruits. They plant mother plants, which send out runners to propagate new strawberry plants. This is an efficient and natural way to expand their strawberry fields.

When the season peaks, usually from April to June, the harvest begins. Each berry is handpicked with care to ensure it has reached its full ripeness because strawberries, unlike some fruits, cease to ripen once removed from the plant.

A Treasure Trove of Nutrients

Strawberries offer more than just their delightful taste; they are a treasure trove of nutrients. They boast an impressive amount of vitamin C, surpassing even oranges gram for gram, which bolsters the immune system.

The berries are also rich in manganese, essential for bone health and metabolic functions, and they offer a good amount of folate, a key nutrient for pregnant women. Potassium, fiber, and antioxidants are abundant in these fruits as well. Eating strawberries contributes to better heart health, improved digestion, and combating oxidative stress, respectively.

Eating with strawberries

The versatility of strawberries in culinary applications is vast. Chefs and home cooks around the world cherish them for their ability to complement both sweet and savory dishes. You can eat strawberries by slicing them fresh onto morning bowls of cereal or yogurt, toss them into a spinach and goat cheese salad for a burst of sweetness, or blend them into smoothies for a refreshing drink.

The berries are also perfect for making jams and jellies, lending themselves to the preservation of their flavor long past their season. Desserts like strawberry shortcake, pies, and ice cream highlight their natural sweetness, while strawberry-infused balsamic vinegar can add a twist to savory dishes.

Commitment to local and fresh

Supporting local strawberry agriculture not only contributes to the local economy but also ensures that the strawberries on your table are the freshest available.

Locally sourced strawberries typically make it from field to market in less than 24 hours, maintaining their optimal flavor and nutritional content. This contrasts with supermarket berries that may have traveled long distances and lost some of their vitality along the way.

Sustainable future for strawberries

The strawberry industry is also looking toward sustainable and organic farming practices to meet consumer demand for eco-friendly produce. This involves reducing pesticide use, conserving water, and employing natural fertilizers, making the strawberry indulgence a guilt-free pleasure.

In summary, strawberries stand out in the fruit world for their allure, health benefits, and versatility. As we savor these delectable fruits, we also celebrate the farmers who bring them to our tables and the sustainable practices that ensure strawberries can be enjoyed for generations to come.

Whether enjoyed in their natural glory, whipped into a culinary creation, or preserved for future enjoyment, strawberries continue to captivate and nourish us in countless ways.

The research was funded by the California Strawberry Commission.

The study is published in the journal Nutrients.

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