Brainy Berries

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests that Acai pulp is effective in protecting brain cells (neurons), and possibly in improving mental function. The study (, entitled “Anthocyanin-rich açai (Euterpe oleracea Mart.) fruit pulp fractions attenuate inflammatory stress signaling in mouse brain BV-2 microglial cells,” was conducted by researchers at Tufts University (Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging) and the USDA (Agricultural Research Service).

A growing body of scientific research and clinical results have shown a link between consumption of flavonoids, which are rich in berries, and various chronic health conditions such as stress, inflammation, neurological problems, and premature aging. Earlier studies have shown that consuming more flavonoid-rich berries can reduce cognitive decline in elderly subjects ( A recent study published in the Annals of Neurology suggested brain aging is reduced up to 2.5 years in elderly who consume more flavonoid-rich berries. In the study, researchers from Harvard Medical School looked at data from over 120,000 Registered Nurses in the nearly 40-year long Nurses Health Study. Findings show that a greater intake of berry flavonoids slowed cognitive decline as well as delayed cognitive aging.

Scientists believe that many of the adverse effects of aging are caused by the “metabolic stress” of oxidative and inflammatory damage – but can be reduced, and in some cases reversed, by a diet high in flavonoids. In another recent study, researchers found that berries can enhance beneficial neurological signaling in the brain. The study ( outlined many of the general “protective” antioxidant effects of berry flavonoids, but also focused on many of the novel direct effects of these compounds on actively preventing age-related neurodegeneration and improving cognitive function. The publication reviewed the wide variety of studies showing how berry flavonoids help to mediate signaling pathways involved in inflammation and cell survival in addition to enhancing complex brain-building processes such as neuroplasticity. The authors noted that berry-derived flavonoids are uniquely able to both cross the blood-brain-barrier as well as concentrate in brain regions involved in learning and memory (such as the hippocampus, which is particularly susceptible to stress-induced memory problems).

We have know for decades that age-related diseases of the brain compromise memory, learning, and movement and are directly linked with increases in oxidative stress and inflammation. The last few years of research have shown us that increasing our consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, can improve physical & mental functioning as well as quality-of-life parameters as we age. These most recent studies are further expanding our understanding of the precise biochemical mechanisms by which flavonoid-rich foods can directly modulate signaling in brain cells and both prevent damage and improve function. What this means for each of us is that consuming our berries, whether as fresh fruit or juice, is a “brainy” daily ritual that holds both immediate and long-term health benefits.

About the Author: Dr. Shawn Talbott is a nutritional biochemist and author of The Secret of VigorHow to Overcome Burnout, Restore Metabolic Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy. Before writing this article, he ate a handful of blueberries and drank 2 ounces of acai-based MonaVie Mx.

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

  • […] Previous studies of older humans and older animals have shown reduced coordination, balance, and mental/cognitive function. Most researchers believe that these age-related changes in brain function and motor skills are due in large part to both oxidative and inflammatory stress. Research over the last decade has shown convincingly that polyphenol/flavonoid compounds from fruits and vegetables have potent antioxidant/anti-inflammatory effects that can reduce and even reverse age-related damage through a variety of cell-signaling and cellular “cleanup” processes in the brain (such as improved autophagy). […]

  • Shawn I caught you on Dr Oz and was very impressed. I’m just in the process of getting your books. One question though. How effective is the Acai Berry as an antioxydent? There is conflicting evidence from many sources including wikipedia? So much info so much confusion. cheers

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