As well as lowering levels of “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein), cranberries could prevent dementia by improving memory and enhancing brain function.
According to a study, one cup of cranberries a day will reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders in people aged 50 and older.
The berry is rich in polyphenols including proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, hydroxycinnamic acids, and flavonols.
Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants known for their anti-inflammatory and blood pressure lowering effects.
A previous study on rats suggests that polyphenols have the ability to improve nervous system function and brain responses to stress.
The recent study examined the effects of cranberries on human cognitive function.
It involved adults aged 50 and older who were tracked for 12 weeks.
Dr David Vauzour, the study’s senior author, said:
“Dementia is expected to affect around 152 million people by 2050.
There is no known cure, so it is crucial that we seek modifiable lifestyle interventions, such as diet, that could help lessen disease risk and burden.
Past studies have shown that higher dietary flavonoid intake is associated with slower rates of cognitive decline and dementia.
And foods rich in anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give berries their red, blue, or purple colour, have been found to improve cognition.
Cranberries are rich in these micronutrients and have been recognized for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
We wanted to find out more about how cranberries could help reduce age-related neurodegeneration.”
Th study divided people into two groups; one received two sachets (each 4.5 g) of freeze-dried cranberry powder a day, an equivalent to 100 g or one cup of fresh cranberries, and the other group took a placebo.
Participants who were on cranberry supplementation showed a remarkable improvement in their neural functioning, visual episodic memory (memory for everyday events), and increased blood flow in the brain as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol reduction.
Dr Vauzour said:
“We found that the participants who consumed the cranberry powder showed significantly improved episodic memory performance in combination with improved circulation of essential nutrients such as oxygen and glucose to important parts of the brain that support cognition — specifically memory consolidation and retrieval.
The cranberry group also exhibited a significant decrease in LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, known to contribute to atherosclerosis — the thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.
This supports the idea that cranberries can improve vascular health and may in part contribute to the improvement in brain perfusion and cognition.
Demonstrating in humans that cranberry supplementation can improve cognitive performance and identifying some of the mechanisms responsible is an important step for this research field.
The findings of this study are very encouraging, especially considering that a relatively short 12-week cranberry intervention was able to produce significant improvements in memory and neural function.”
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition (Flanagan et al., 2022).