September 24, 1999
WASHINGTON--A recent Tufts University study published in the Sept. issue ofThe Journal of Neuroscience found that elderly rats fed the human equivalent of half a cup of blueberries, daily, had improved coordination, short-term memory and balance.
The rats were 19 months old--the human equivalent would be 65 to 70 years old. In rats, the loss of motor skills becomes apparent around 12 months. By 19 months, rats begin to lose the ability to balance, and/or to stay balanced. The average rat can stay balanced on a narrow rod for 13 seconds at the age of 12 months; at 19 months, that drops to 5 seconds. Nineteen-month old rats that consumed the blueberry extract could stay balanced for an average of 11 seconds.
Blueberries contain antioxidants, which, scientists believe, protect the body against oxidative stress and free radicals and help the body combat the aging process. Free radicals are responsible for destroying cell membranes and DNA, which weaken cells and result in cell deaths. The presence of too much oxidative stress or too many free radicals directly relates to weak bodies and the acceleration of the aging process.
Strawberries and spinach also rated high on the antioxidant scale. The study's authors reported that spinach and strawberry extracts produced some improvements in memory, but only blueberry extract had any positive effect on balance and coordination. Previous Tufts studies demonstrated that antioxidant supplementation in young rats slowed free radical damage, but this current study was the first to demonstrate a direct link between antioxidants and the reversal of age-related decline, according to the scientists. Further clinical trials to investigate the significance for humans must be undertaken, but scientists speculated that the antioxidants worked by improving the integrity of the cell membranes, making it easier for important nutrients and chemicals to pass through.
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