Toward Berry Good Aging

by Dr. Paul Gross - Date: 2006-12-06 - Word Count: 935 Share This!

As Canadians live longer and pay more attention to diet and healthy lifestyles, those in middle to upper ages want to "add life to years", not just years to life.

One way for aging well is to consume colour-rich plants (i.e., mixed vegetables, varied fruits and particularly different brightly coloured berries).

Why is coloring a good guide for food selection?

Science teaches us that vivid colours in plants like berries come from pigments provided by Nature to ward off pests and attract pollinators, helping to guarantee regeneration of the species.

Pigments have another important function for the plant. Located mostly in the outer layers, skin or rind, they fashion an antioxidant defensive shell against sun and radiation exposure which, if not prevented from forming free radicals, would oxidize cells, membranes, proteins and DNA.

Simply, pigments assure survival of the species by guarding against oxidative stressors in the plant's environment.

Fortunately for humans, eating colour-rich plants transfers that antioxidant benefit to us.

The French Paradox and Anti-Aging Benefits

Clinical studies have shown that French citizens who regularly consume red wine have unexpectedly low rates of neurological, inflammatory and cardiovascular disorders. This occurs despite their preference for high-fat foods that should promote these diseases.

How do they gain this protection?

Regular consumption of red wine is thought to provide sufficient quantities of grape antioxidant pigments that fight disease-promoting fats and other oxidizing factors.

Oxidative stress is the cell's failure to balance and defend itself against production of oxygen free radicals which damage nucleic acids, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. Oxidative damage is particularly detrimental in the brain because its cells cannot be renewed.

Understanding the French paradox and its dependence on fruit antioxidants was a clue for other scientists to examine the value of berry consumption against typical aging and oxidative stress diseases.

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lou Gehrig's (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), visual decline, memory, motor and cognitive deficits, arthritis, diabetes and even cancer are likely to have some degree of oxidative stress at their origin.

Dietary choices of colourful foods and antioxidant benefits supplied by berries and other colour-rich plants may be an answer for lowering the risk of contracting such diseases. Although studies showing this benefit of colourful plants are only preliminary, the results are encouraging.

Berry Phenolics and the Brain

Berries (blueberries, blackberries, black raspberries, strawberries, among others), exemplify a familiar and popular plant group with varied colors.

Small, water-soluble chemicals called "phenolics" - the colour pigments from berry skin, pulp and seeds with tongue-twisting names like resveratrol, anthocyanin, quercetin, peonidin and malvidin - have antioxidant properties known to be valuable for human health.

Some of the most convincing laboratory research on the benefits of berry phenolics shows improvements in the following brain functions, revealing a possible link to inhibition of the aging process:

Connectivity between brain cells responsible for cognition and memory
Signaling capacity from neuron to neuron
Motor control and balance
Problem-solving ability
Activity of key anti-inflammatory enzymes within the brain
Uptake of phenolics specifically in brain regions responsible for mood (cerebral cortex), motor control (striatum, cerebellum), learning and memory (hippocampus)

Are There Specific Anti-Aging Benefits of Berries?

Consumption of berries and their antioxidant phenolics shows potential benefit against:

Alzheimer's Disease - In mice genetically bred to have brain amyloid deposits (Alzheimer's disease model), motor performance and neuronal signaling capacity did not decline further with age when berries were consumed regularly.

Memory Deficits - Studies in rats given berry preparations in their food showed improvements in learning and memory during specific field tasks.

Loss of Motor Control and Balance - Aged rats fed berries were able to perform agility tests better than their control-fed counterparts.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) - Antioxidant vitamins C and E combined with beta-carotene (a provitamin for vitamin A), zinc and copper - all nutrients found in berries - are the basis for commercial supplements prescribed by eye physicians to delay or prevent AMD, a blinding disorder of the elderly. Clinical trials have shown that these nutrients are effective in stopping the progression of AMD.

Cancer - Test tube studies have shown that berry phenolics can block the multi-step process of carcinogenesis at various stages: tumor initiation, promotion and progression, while stimulating the natural death rate of cancer cells, causing tumor cells to extinguish faster than normal.

The research to date is preliminary in these experimental results, but nonetheless promising for human health and anti-aging benefits gained from eating colourful plants like berries.

Why wait for the full scientific evidence of health benefits that these wonderful gems of summer can provide when regularly included in the diet?

Enjoy berries now, knowing that you are fortifying your body with Nature's nutrients and phytochemicals shown by early research to guard against oxidative diseases.

Isn't that a berry good plan for aging well?


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Labinskyy N, Csiszar A, Veress G, Stef G, Pacher P, Oroszi G, Wu J, Ungvari Z. Vascular dysfunction in aging: potential effects of resveratrol, an anti-inflammatory phytoestrogen. Curr Med Chem. 13:989-96, 2006.

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Related Tags: berries, blueberries, free radicals, aging well, antioxidant, high-fat foods

Dr. Paul Gross is a scientist and expert on cardiovascular and brain physiology. A published researcher, Gross recently completed a book on the Chinese wolfberry and has begun another on antioxidant berries. Gross is founder of Berry Health Inc, a developer of nutritional, berry-based supplements. For more information, visit

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