Get Smart with Blueberries

Blueberries

It’s the spring growing season in South Carolina.  Have you forgotten that this is the time to get your garden ready for organic delectables?  Why not try blueberries this year?  The small blue fruits that grow happily on bushes in sandy soil gives your brain the juice it needs to run smoothly year after year, according Science Daily about healthy aging.

Just about everyone likes blueberries.  You can eat them raw, in smoothies, on pancakes with yogurt or, occasionally, on homemade ice cream.  Meanwhile, blueberries have recently gained an enhanced reputation of being a “super fruit” because it has been determined that they have not only the potential to lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, but are also a help older folks stave off the onset of memory problems.

New research was presented recently at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society that certain antioxidants in blueberries help prevent the devastating effects of dementia, including the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults,” says Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., leader of the research team. He adds that blueberries’ beneficial effects could be due to flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve animals’ cognition.

Currently 5.3 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s. But that number is expected to increase as the U.S. population ages. Estimates are that, by 2025, the number of Americans with this degenerative disorder could rise 40 percent to more than 7 million, and it could almost triple by 2050.

One recent study involved 47 adults aged 68 and older who had mild cognitive impairment, a risk condition for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers gave them either freeze-dried blueberry powder, which is equivalent to a cup of berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks.

“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo,” Krikorian says. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts.

In the future, the team plans to conduct a blueberry study with people aged 50 to 65. The group will include people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as those who are obese, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This work could help the researchers determine if blueberries could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

A brief history

Blueberry farms did not exist until the 1900s. They are native to North America and grew in the wild until scientists figured out a way to plant and cultivate them. Today blueberry bushes are grown commercially or in the backyard in slightly acidic soils, and can produce for 20 years or more.

Blueberries are relatives to rhododendrons and azaleas. The bushes offer scarlet fall foliage and creamy white spring flowers. They are also resistant to most pests and plant diseases.

They come in three varieties: Highbush, lowbush and hybrid half-high. Most people plant the highbush in moist, but well-drained soils that are high in organic material.  The ph should be between 4 to 5.  Purchase bushes from a reputable nursery. Each bush should be around three years old.  Plant in early spring, and in full sun. Be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow.  Keep them weeded and fertilize sparingly according to directions.

Lisa Burbage

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