Breakthrough research hails benefits of blueberries

Breakthrough research suggests blueberries can have a significant effect on memory and attention in children.

Prof Claire Williams is the chair of neuroscience in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, UK. She was the guest of honour at the official launch of the New Zealand blueberry season.

Prof Williams is at the forefront of research into the health benefits of plant-derived chemicals, and has found that the flavonoids found naturally in blueberries can significantly improve memory and attention - particularly in children.

"Students can really benefit from the short-term memory boost blueberries offer if they consume them before an exam," she said.

Prof Williams is nearing the end of her new research, which is about to be published and discussed the initial findings at the launch.

 Eliza McCartney is an ambassador for Blueberries New Zealand.
Eliza McCartney is an ambassador for Blueberries New Zealand. Photo credit: Supplied

Blueberries New Zealand chairman Dan Peach says Prof Williams' studies on the links between diet and brain function are at the leading edge of current scientific research, and the results have significant implications across all age groups.

"We've always known our wonderful fruit is packed full of goodness, but to have these additional benefits confirmed by Prof Williams' research is really exciting for us," he said.

In a recent double-blind trial, a group of seven- to 10-year-olds were given a drink containing blueberries then tested on their speed and accuracy with a computer programme. The children given the flavonoid-rich blueberry beverage demonstrated 9 percent quicker reaction times than those who drank a placebo without any loss of accuracy. 

Of particular interest, Prof Williams noted that the effect seemed more noticeable as the tests became harder.

Previous trials by the same research group have shown that consuming blueberries can improve mood and simple memory recall in primary school children. 

Blueberry season in New Zealand is December to March, although January is when they are most abundant on New Zealand shelves.