Some years ago, when I was beginning a book on friendship and Alzheimer's disease, I was aware of blueberries as one of the main “brain foods.” It was prominent in a rather long list of suggested ways to stave off cognitive decline, many of which could be handily summarized as follows: Eat a Mediterranean diet and exercise. Occasionally I had them for breakfast, not with great enthusiasm. However four years ago, I had not spent most of my waking hours decoding medical journals and interviewing dementia patients and caregivers. I hadn’t spent days unobtrusively sitting in the bedroom of a former physician who can no longer say the alphabet. I had not studied carefully the faces of caregivers as they spoke about what this disease has taken from someone they love. I was more concerned about having purple teeth.
I’m now convinced enough that I begin almost every day with a cup of blueberries. I add them to salads. I bake them in bread. I sprinkle them on ice cream. I mash them into sauces. And I do not have stained teeth; I’ve discovered Multi-Care Whitening Rinse. A swish and the evidence of having consumed something Native Americans once used to dye clothing and baskets is removed. I’m convinced enough that if I had to give up either dark chocolate or blueberries, I might rummage through the yellow pages in search of a hypnotist to help me deal with cravings, since I rely on chocolate for a steady supply of endorphins in my brain.
The chemicals in blueberries helped protect the brains of rats mechanically plunged into a demented state by Tufts researchers, probably wielding very tiny instruments. The rats who ate blueberries still found their way through mazes. The ones that didn’t, didn’t. A 2007 (but still relevant) Neuroscience Press Conference in San Diego featured side by side slides of cortical neurons in aged rats fed a blueberry enriched diet and rats fed regular rat food. It requires nothing more than normal vision to see the difference. The dendritic branches of neurons in the blueberry-fed rats look like well established oak trees. Old control rats show “a paucity of dendritic spines.” Their dendrites look like saplings stuck in the parking lot of a shopping mall. Drinking wild blueberry juice for twelve weeks measurably boosted memory in a control group of older adults with mental decline (full details: Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, January 2010). And I could go on. For ideas about eating blueberries, see Tara Parker-Pope’s New York Times article, Blueberries Morning, Noon and Night.