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October 16, 2017

New study highlights wild blueberry's benefits on children's brain function

Courtesy / Wild Blueberry Association of North America)
Courtesy / Wild Blueberry Association of North America)
A study released on Oct. 13 says that flavonoids found in wild blueberries may enhance cognitive brain function in children.

The Maine wild blueberry industry is hailing a new study that shows consuming a flavonoid-rich wild blueberry beverage may help a part of the brain that manages time and attention work more efficiently in children.

The study, published in the journal Food & Function and released Friday, is the first to examine whether cognitive function in children who have consumed flavonoids such as blueberries increases as a task gets harder. Flavonoids are a compound in plants that keeps their cells healthy and provides similar benefits for humans.

"The study demonstrates, for the first time, significantly faster response times on an executive function task in children who consumed a beverage containing wild blueberries," said a news release from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. Executive function is controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain and includes the mental skills that manage time and attention.

The study used a wild blueberry powder equal to one-and-three-quarters cups of berries and was led by professors Claire Williams and Adrian Whyte of the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at England's University of Reading.

Wild blueberries are considered a "superfruit," loaded with flavonoids that not only help brain health, but cardiac and gastrointestinal health, diabetes and more. Maine is the largest producer in the world of wild blueberries, growing up to 100 million pounds of wild blueberries a year that bring $250 million in revenue.

"This new study demonstrates that food intake affects kids' brains and mental performance, and suggests that it's not just adults — but also children — who can benefit cognitively from consuming flavonoid-rich foods like wild blueberries," said Kit Broihier, nutrition advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.

Broihier said the takeaway for the everyday consumer is that blueberry consumption is an easy addition to a diet. "Providing children with meals and snacks that incorporate a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, such as wild blueberries, is a way to help kids consume a variety of beneficial flavonoids," she said.

The study used 21 children between the ages of 7 and 10, some of whom were given a beverage that had 30 grams of wild blueberry powder and others who were given a placebo.

Cognitive function was the same for both groups during easy parts of the task, but as the task became more difficult, those who drank the blueberry beverage could perform significantly faster. Previous studies hadn't broken down the different elements of a task into easier or difficult parts.

"We conclude that [wild blueberry] administration can enhance executive function during demanding elements of a task, but that the complexity and demand of the task as a whole may be equally important to performance," the authors said in the study.

Williams has also published studies on the effects of blueberry flavonoids on mood in children and young adults, and on cognitive function and blood flow in young adults.

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