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A Cup of Cranberries a Day Keeps Dementia Away

A Cup of Cranberries a Day Keeps Dementia Away

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

We know maintaining optimal brain health is essential for a fulfilling life, especially as we age. After all, our brain—that mushy collection of neurons and other brain cells—is how we interact with the world around us. Unfortunately, age-related cognitive decline can result in a significant decrease in brain function, thinking and memory.

But while aging is inevitable, cognitive decline doesn't have to be. A recent study from the University of East Anglia found some "berry" good news about a way to help support and maintain brain function: cranberry intervention.

According to the study, having the equivalent of one cup of fresh cranberries a day can improve memory, neuronal functioning, and vascular health, enhancing blood flow to the brain. And as a sweet bonus, researchers found the red fruit also helps lower LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol levels, which can build up in the arteries and result in a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's.

"Cranberries are rich in these micronutrients [flavonoids, anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins] and have been recognized for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties," the authors said.

Cranberries and neural function: What's the connection?

The researchers from the University of East Anglia performed a placebo-controlled study of parallel groups of healthy 50 to 80-year-olds adults to assess the effects of freeze-dried cranberry powder on cognition, brain function and biomarkers for brain cell signaling.

The 60 parallel-grouped study participants underwent cognitive assessments, including memory and executive function, neuroimaging, and blood sample collection before and after the cranberry intervention.

The results revealed that taking cranberry extract for 12 weeks improved memory of everyday events (visual episodic memory) and enhanced blood circulation to certain parts of the brain (regional brain perfusion) compared to the placebo group. Better blood flow means essential nutrients such as oxygen and glucose reach areas of the brain associated with memory consolidation and retrieval.

This new study shows the potential for significant improvements in cognition by making lifestyle changes, like adding cranberries to your diet. It also provides the basis for new research into the long-term effects of this superfood on brain health.

What are cranberries?

When you think of cranberries, you probably think of the cranberry juice you find at the local grocery store. Native to North America, cranberries are a terrific source of various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Today, cranberries grow in farmlands across the Northern United States, Canada, Chile and European countries.

Cranberries grow in marshes and are often water-harvested. When cranberries ripen and are ready to be harvested, the little round red fruits float in the water and are exposed to more sunlight, which may increase their nutritional value. Typically, cranberry harvest starts in early September and lasts all fall.

Like any other fruit, you'll get a peak level of nutritional content and health benefits when you eat cranberries whole. But if the bitter/sour taste isn't for you, you can still benefit from consuming cranberries in extract form, dried fruit, juice, or powder.

Pro tip: If you choose juices, dried fruits, or powders, make sure they have minimal to no added sugars.

Why are cranberries good for the brain?

Cranberries are known for their many health benefits, and supporting cognitive health is one of them. Packed with nutrients like B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamins E and A, and vitamin K, minerals, and polyphenols (plant compounds) such as quercetin and anthocyanins, cranberries are a cocktail of brain-friendly and whole-body health nutrients—they don't call it a "superfood" for nothing!

Their antioxidant-rich content makes cranberries an excellent choice for keeping your brain healthy. That's because these nutrients can confer neuroprotective effects, and may positively impact cognitive performance in several ways:

  1. More nutrients to the brain

    —Regularly consuming cranberries has been shown to improve endothelial function—the delicate lining of your blood vessels—in healthy adults. Why does this matter? Blood vessels are the highway by which oxygenated blood and nutrients are delivered to every cell. In other words, cranberries can improve brain perfusion (blood circulation) and may help your brain cells get the nutrients they need to thrive.
  2. Live and remember

    —This double-blind study showed that cranberries help improve episodic memory performance (memories of specific events) in healthy adults.
  3. Healthy heart, healthy mind

    —The polyphenols found in cranberries have been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels, supporting heart health and potentially lowering the risk of dementia.

How many cranberries should I eat a day?

Having one cup of raw cranberries or a quarter-cup of dried cranberry fruit (dried fruits have more sugar) a day is the best way to get this superfood's health-boosting and brain-protective benefits.

Don't overdo it, of course. Cranberries are safe and superb for your health, but having too many can result in digestive discomforts.

Cranberry juice can be the fastest way to add more cranberry goodness to your daily nourishment, but the process the red fruit goes through strips it of most of its nutrients—and cranberry cocktail juice is loaded with sugars (not the healthiest choice).

So, how do you add more cranberries to your meals? Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Colorful salads

    —Adding the whole cranberry fruit to your salads is an easy way to get more cranberry benefits. Pro tip: Make it a grilled salmon salad for more brain-boosting benefits.
  2. On-the-go smoothies

    —Smoothies are an easy way to add nourishment to your day, and adding cranberries to your next protein powder smoothie ensures you get even more!
  3. Cranberry extracts

    —Cranberry extracts are the ace up your sleeve when it comes to complementing a healthy lifestyle. Look for formulations derived from the whole fruit with little to no added sugars.

Five brain-boosting superfoods

It's never too early to start a brain-friendly lifestyle. Eating brain-healthy foods like the ones in the MIND diet is a keystone in maintaining memory and cognitive function.

Cranberries are a brain superfood, but they aren't the only ones. Here's a list of five brain-enhancing superfoods you can add to your meals and feed your noggin.

  1. Ashwagandha

    —The Ayurvedic herb, which can be mixed in recipes and beverages, is known for promoting a state of calm and relaxation.
  2. Berries

    —Blueberries, raspberries, and all sorts of berries are rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and polyphenols with powerful antioxidant properties, which protect brain cells from oxidative stress and may support overall cognitive health and function.
  3. Cacao

    —Studies show cacao promotes blood flow to the brain, supporting memory and executive function. Pro tip: Add cacao powder to smoothies or make cacao-dusted truffle balls.
  4. Sage

    —This ancient herb has been shown to support healthy communication between brain cells, confer neuroprotective effects, and promote a healthy inflammatory response.
  5. Walnuts

    —Packed with omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are an essential brain food.

Let's recap: Cranberries are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals shown to support several aspects of whole-body health, including episodic memory, brain perfusion, heart health, and of course, urinary health. Like any other berry, cranberries are a brain-boosting superfood because they're loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols like anthocyanins.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.