Feel Like You're Thinking Slower With Age? Eat Some Wild Blueberries, Study Says

Wild Blueberries

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Key Takeaways

  • According to a new study, older people experiencing cognitive decline who ate freeze-dried powder made from wild Maine blueberries every day for six months saw improvements in their brain's processing speed.
  • Wild blueberries contain plant-based nutrients called phytochemicals that support brain health.
  • Including wild blueberries in your diet may offer some cognitive health benefits, especially if you're older.

As we age, many of us will find ourselves not as "sharp" mentally as we were in our younger years. Finding ways to keep our brains active is a key part of healthy aging.

According to a recent study published in Nutritional Neuroscience, eating wild blueberries may help older adults experiencing slower cognitive processing speeds think faster.

Previous studies have linked blueberry consumption to increased blood flow to the brain. They've also shown the possible cognitive benefits of eating foods that contain antioxidant-packed plant compounds called polyphenols—which includes blueberries.

Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have published a study that looked at whether wild blueberries could specifically help older adults with cognitive decline.

Wild Blueberries and Cognitive Health

The researchers conducted a double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial with 86 older adult participants who were having cognitive challenges. The researchers also included a reference group of 45 participants who were not having cognitive problems.

The participants were randomly assigned to either consume wild blueberry freeze-dried powder or a powder with no blueberries in it as a placebo every day for six months.

The participants were monitored monthly throughout the trial. At the end of the study, they had their cognitive abilities retested. One key measure was how fast their brains could take in and understand information—what's called processing speed.

The results showed that the people with cognitive decline who ate blueberry powder daily for the study had improved processing speed compared to the placebo group—in fact, their processing speed was on par with the reference group who had not been having cognitive problems.

The improvement in processing speed seen in the blueberry powder group was most apparent in the participants who were 75 to 80 years of age.

The younger participants in the study did not appear to be helped much by the blueberries. The researchers theorized that these participants may not have been having age-related cognitive problems—they might have been showing early signs of cognitive disease like dementia.

The researchers also highlighted that the reference group of people who were not experiencing cognitive decline also had some key protective factors for brain health, like higher education and physical activity levels.

Why Does This Study Matter?

Processing speed is an important brain function because it helps us go about our daily tasks, from mundane to essential. If our brain health and cognitive function decline as we age, we may not be able to safely live independently for as long as we'd like.

“We need interventions to improve brain health and, thus, quality of life for older adults—especially now that Boomers are reaching the age when brain health becomes a pressing concern,” Mary Ann Lila, PhD, an author of the study and the director of the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University, told Verywell.

Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian, and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, LLC, told Verywell that the study "suggests that adding wild blueberries to your diet may reduce some of the effects that aging can have on our cognition—especially related to the time it takes your brain to process information."

Lila pointed to the habits of the reference group participants in their study—who had never experienced any cognitive issues—as great examples of the behaviors that can keep our brains healthy: exercise, education, and good nutrition.

"Cognitive decline does not have to be something we just accept as a part of aging," Lila said.

Study Limitations to Keep in Mind

While the results are promising, Melissa Mitri, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Melissa Mitri Nutrition, points out some limitations of the study, like the small sample size.

"It is harder to apply the results of such a small study to the general population," said Mitri. "While these study results are promising, I would like to see larger studies done specifically on the role of blueberries in brain health."

Hailey Crean, MS, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at Hailey Crean Nutrition, LLC, added that the "researchers point out the sample of volunteers was mostly caucasian, which limits how generalizable the results may be."

Why Wild Blueberries?

There are different varieties of blueberries—from the conventional highbush berries that we usually see in the produce section of the grocery store to the rabbiteye, which offers less taste relative to the others. The berries have some differences, both in terms of taste and possible health benefits.

Wild blueberries are one to consider for a few reasons, including their sweet taste and deep blue color. They're smaller in size than other blueberries and are often sold in a frozen form.

They're also a nutritional powerhouse, partly because wild blueberries have 33% more anthocyanins (a specific plant-based phytochemical with many health benefits) than conventional blueberries.

"Phytochemicals are compounds in plants that develop to defend the plant from environmental stress, fungi, bacteria, and viruses," said Lila. "Once consumed by humans, they transfer these health benefits to us."

According to Lila, the current study showed that the phytochemicals specific to the wild blueberry are important for brain health.

How to Boost Your Blueberry Intake

The study used freeze-dried wild blueberry powder.

"But the effects will be better with the flash-frozen or fresh whole wild blueberries," Lila said. "Even though the powder tested as still having the full profile of phytochemicals, I believe the whole food to be better."

Fortunately, it's easy to enhance dishes with blueberries—which also won't add any sugar or artificial flavors.

Here are a few tips for how to include more blueberries in your diet:

  • Include blueberries in a smoothie for a bit of sweetness.
  • Have a cup of Wyman’s Just Fruit and Greek Yogurt Bites instead of a sugary frozen treat.
  • Incorporate blueberries in your baked goods recipes (think: blueberry muffins).
  • Add blueberries to a chicken or tuna salad.
  • Enjoy a bowl of wild blueberries with a spoon for a fruity, juicy snack full of polyphenols, fiber, and many micronutrients.

What This Means For You

If you're experiencing slower cognition as you age, a new study suggests that including some wild blueberries to your diet might help speed up your thinking power.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cheatham CL, Canipe LG, Millsap G. Six-month intervention with wild blueberries improved speed of processing in mild cognitive decline: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. Nutritional Neuroscience. Published online September 6, 2022:1-15. doi:10.1080/1028415x.2022.2117475

  2. Boespflug EL, Eliassen JC, Dudley JA, et al. Enhanced neural activation with blueberry supplementation in mild cognitive impairmentNutritional Neuroscience. 2018;21(4):297-305. doi:10.1080/1028415X.2017.1287833

  3. Wu X, Beecher GR, Holden JM, Haytowitz DB, Gebhardt SE, Prior RL. Concentrations of anthocyanins in common foods in the United States and estimation of normal consumption. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54(11):4069-4075. doi:10.1021/jf060300l