Sweet Science: Eating Strawberries Could Help Prevent Dementia and Depression

Eating a Strawberry

A recent study demonstrates that strawberries, consumed daily for 12 weeks, can improve memory and reduce depressive symptoms in middle-aged, overweight adults. This improvement is attributed to the anti-inflammatory effects of anthocyanins in strawberries, highlighting the fruit’s role in cognitive health.

Improvements seen in executive cognitive control and emotional coping following strawberry consumption.

A new study published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nutrients shows daily consumption of strawberries for 12 weeks reduced interference in memory and depressive symptoms among middle-aged, overweight adults with self-reported mild cognitive decline.

Understanding Dementia and Dietary Impact

“Dementia is a general term that includes many different diseases, all without remedies,” says Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. “It is not clear when or if effective therapy will be available; prevention and mitigation through dietary and lifestyle choices is currently the best approach we have.”

Methodology and Participant Profile

This double-blind, randomized controlled trial included five men and 25 women. One group received a strawberry powder prepared from whole fruit that had been desiccated, freeze-dried, and milled. The second group received the control powder which was designed to have the same appearance, taste, and carbohydrate load as the strawberry powder and contained fiber but no polyphenolic content. Daily servings of strawberry and control powder were sealed in packets for the convenience of the participants and to control daily dosage.

Strawberries Concept Art

Strawberries are highly nutritious and offer a range of health benefits. They are particularly rich in vitamin C, providing 100% of the daily requirement in just a single cup. This makes them excellent for supporting the immune system and skin health. Strawberries also contain heart-healthy nutrients like folate and potassium, which contribute to cardiovascular health.

Each packet of strawberry powder contained 13 grams, providing 36.8 milligrams anthocyanins derived from 130 grams whole fruit and equivalent to about 1 cup whole fresh strawberries. Participants were also asked to discontinue consumption of all berry fruits, juices, and extracts for the duration of the study. This was done to mitigate the potential confound related to a group difference in consumption of berry products in the background diet.

Study Rationale and Target Group

“We wanted to work with a middle-aged, overweight population as dementia is a condition that is believed to develop over a period of decades. Furthermore, inflammation is likely a contributing factor related to metabolic disorders such as overweight/obesity, prediabetes, and type 2 diabetes,” explains Krikorian.

Findings and Implications

Specifically, the findings show that after the 12-week intervention, participants who were given the whole fruit strawberry powder made fewer ‘intrusion errors’ during a word list learning task (e.g., remembering/repeating words not included in the learning task). This has relevance in terms of identifying cognitive decline as memory interference is not uncommon in the context of aging, especially in late-life dementia. Additionally, participants who were given the whole fruit strawberry powder reported lower levels of depressive symptoms which implies improved emotional coping capabilities. “Our findings can likely be attributed to the anti-inflammatory actions of the anthocyanins found in strawberries,” added Krikorian.

Nutritional Benefits of Strawberries

In addition to providing polyphenols, strawberries are a source of many bioactive compounds. Strawberries provide 100% of our daily vitamin C needs in single, 1-cup serving and contain heart-healthy nutrients like folate, potassium, fiber, phytosterols, and polyphenols.

Future of Polyphenol Research

“We are excited with these findings and the future of polyphenol research,” says Chris Christian, senior vice president at the California Strawberry Commission.

“The link between strawberry consumption and brain health has been well explored in both clinical and population-based studies. For example, strawberries and pelargonidin, a biochemical primarily found in strawberries, were associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s dementia in studies conducted at Rush University. And, long-term observational studies, including the Health Professionals Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, found that strawberry consumers had lower rates of cognitive decline,” explains Christian.

For more on this study, see Eating Strawberries Every Day Could Reduce Risk of Dementia.

Reference: “Early Intervention in Cognitive Aging with Strawberry Supplementation” by Robert Krikorian, Marcelle D. Shidler and Suzanne S. Summer, 18 October 2023, Nutrients.
DOI: 10.3390/nu15204431

Funding: California Strawberry Commission

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