May 25, 2022 – Healthy older adults who regularly eat cranberries may see better memory and brain function, plus lower cholesterol at the same time, according to a new study.

The study, published last week in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, found that people ages 50 to 80 who ate the equivalent of a cup of fresh cranberries a day for 12 weeks saw significant improvement in their memory of everyday events.

At the same time, the people in the study saw greater flow of oxygen and glucose to important parts of the brain that support memory.

The findings are "very encouraging," says lead researcher David Vauzour, PhD, especially since the cranberry "intervention" only lasted 12 weeks and yet was able to generate significant improvements in both memory and brain function.

But he cautions that the study only included healthy older people. So it is not known whether the memory-boosting effect of cranberries will translate to adults who already have memory problems, says Vauzour, of the University of East Anglia Norwich Medical School in the United Kingdom.

Cranberries grow on vines in freshwater bogs, mostly in the northern United States and southern Canada. They are packed with micronutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, especially anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, which give the berries their red color and have been found to improve thinking skills.

They can be eaten dried or put into foods like smoothies.

But a word of caution: Earlier research found that drinking cranberry juice didn’t improve thinking skills. While drinking cranberry juice can have health benefits, many products come with large amounts of added sugar. They are also often diluted with water, meaning you have to drink more to see the benefits of the berries.

In the current study, not only did 12 weeks of eating cranberries daily improve memory and brain function, it also lowered "bad" LDL cholesterol, known to add to plaque buildup in arteries. This suggests that cranberries can improve the health of blood vessels, including those in the brain.

The investigators say their study lays the foundation for future research on cranberries and brain health.

But Vauzour noted that not everyone should start loading up on cranberries every day. In addition, people taking blood thinners "should seek advice from their [doctor] as there are reported interactions," he said.

Balanced Diet Best

Zhaoping Li, MD, who wasn't involved in the study, isn't surprised by the results.

"Foods rich in phenolic compounds such as berries and other fruits have been shown to improve memory, especially visual memory. We have done a similar study with pomegranate with similar findings," says Li, who heads the Center for Human Nutrition at the UCLA School of Medicine.

"The key message should be eating more natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to replace ultraprocessed foods will improve our overall health beyond memory," she says.

Also weighing in on the study, Heather Snyder, PhD, a vice president with the Alzheimer's Association, said the "opportunity to eat a balanced diet may contribute to decreasing one's risk for cognitive decline and dementia."

But to date, there is not one single ingredient that, through rigorous research, has been found to prevent or reduce risk for dementia, she says.

"Given the complexity of the brain and the diseases that cause dementia, it is unlikely that one food, ingredient, or supplement in isolation will have a significant beneficial effect against a disease. For now, we recommend focusing on diet as a whole and incorporating many healthy foods -- vegetables, fruits, lean proteins -- into your diet," Snyder says.

The study was supported by a grant from the Cranberry Institute, but it was not involved in the design, implementation, analysis, or interpretation of the data.

Show Sources

Frontiers in Nutrition: “Chronic Consumption of Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) for 12 Weeks Improves Episodic Memory and Regional Brain Perfusion in Healthy Older Adults: A Randomised, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Groups Feasibility Study.”

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: “A double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of the neuropsychologic efficacy of cranberry juice in a sample of cognitively intact older adults: pilot study findings.”

David Vauzour, PhD, senior researcher, University of East Anglia Norwich Medical School, United Kingdom.

Zhaoping Li, MD, chief, Center for Human Nutrition, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles.

Heather Snyder, PhD, vice president, medical and scientific relations, Alzheimer's Association.

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