Once your brain has experienced gradual dysfunction, perhaps even undetected, can you rejuvenate it? Can you actually reverse some of the decline? In short, can you repair the brain’s broken circuits, restoring some of its lost functioning? Even Dr. Joseph was not totally surprised that strawberries and spinach prevented decline. But reversing such aging damage that had already occurred was another matter. He knew of nothing, outside maybe a strong experimental drug, that had ever done it or could be expected to do it. But he thought he would give it a shot.
Dr. Joseph decided to add blueberries this time. New USDA analyses had recently found blueberries to be an antioxidant superpower, better even than strawberries or spinach. The chosen rats were old—between 65 and 70 in human terms, with age-related brain deficits, resulting in diminished memory, motor coordination, and balance. For eight weeks, they were fed a regular control diet or diets containing 1 to 2 percent of calories from either extracts of fresh blueberries, strawberries, or spinach, processed into a freeze-dried powder and mixed with their regular chow.
At the end of the experiment, the animals were re-tested. The unthinkable had happened. All the rats eating the blueberries, strawberries, or spinach displayed better mental faculties than at the beginning of the experiment. In other words, their mental deficits had been dramatically reversed. Their brains were now functioning at much younger levels.
How much younger? How much did their brain deficits regress? “Well, some of them were as good as “young” and some were as good as “middle-age, at least middle-age.” It’s the damndest thing I ever saw,” says an astounded Dr. Joseph.
In other words, you fixed the brain’s machinery?
And how much did they have to eat in human terms? “Only about half a cup of blueberries a day.”
“No, it’s amazing.”
All three—blueberries, spinach, and strawberries—improved short-term memory—of the type needed to remember phone numbers long enough to dial them. But only blueberries reversed deficits in coordination and balance. This is highly significant, because such motor coordination typically starts to decline by middle age, and there is no known way to prevent or reverse it. The fact that blueberries may do so is an exciting discovery. For example, aged rats are able to traverse a narrow rod for only five seconds before losing their balance and falling off. After eating blueberries for two months, they were able to stay on the rod more than twice as long—eleven seconds.
When Dr. Joseph looked further, he found more striking evidence of the blueberry phenomenon. Examinations of their brains clearly revealed concrete cellular changes related to their mental rejuvenation. He verified that the insensitivity of receptors in brain cells had been partly reversed. Thus, much of the eroded integrity of the brain’s circuitry had been restored, accounting for their improved mental capacities.
Then, he decided to put blueberries to another test. He first exposed animal neurons to a toxic substance, known to cause extensive free radical damage in neurons, including dreaded calcium dysregulation that helps ruin human brain cells, inducing dementia. Sure enough, it was devastation. Then he took the damaged cells and poured blueberry extract over them. When he tested them again, the dementia-inducing toxicity had completely vanished, neutralized by the blueberries.
“Sure, I was surprised. I know of no other agent that could reverse motor behavioral and cognitive defects from aging. It’s the only thing I have ever found that does it—and I have been searching for twenty-two years.”
Other brain researchers, along with Dr. Joseph, are now testing the blueberry’s powers to see if it can prevent or reverse Alzheimer’s-like brain damage in animals.