Women who eat plenty of blueberries and strawberries experience slower mental decline with age than women who consume fewer of the flavonoid-rich fruits, a US study said Thursday.
Based on a survey of more than 16,000 women who filled out regular questionnaires on their health habits from 1976 through 2001, the findings showed that those who ate the most berries delayed cognitive decline by up to 2.5 years.
Every two years from 1995 to 2001, researchers measured mental function in subjects over age 70, according to the study published in the Annals of Neurology.
"We provide the first epidemiologic evidence that berries may slow progression of cognitive decline in elderly women," said Elizabeth Devore, a doctor with Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.
"Our findings have significant public health implications as increasing berry intake is a fairly simple dietary modification to test cognition protection in older adults."
Devore added that the findings are of particular importance to the aging population, which is on the rise.
The number of Americans aged 65 and older grew 15 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the US Census.
Robert Graham, an internist at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital who was not involved with the study, said eating more berries is good idea for people of any age.
"Large epidemiological studies, such as this one, add to the basic science research that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of berries have a beneficial role in age-related cognitive decline," said Graham.
"I would advise all my patients, at any age, to eat more berries. Berries are an easy, nutritious and delicious way to preserve brain function."
Flavonoids are antioxidants that are found in berries, apples, citrus fruits, tea, red wine and onions, and previous research has shown they may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
"The current study demonstrates that women who consumed the most flavonoids, especially berries, had a slower cognitive decline over time than women with lower intakes," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.
"Increasing our intakes of fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to live a healthy life."