New research has found that New Zealand blackcurrants may help keep us mentally young and agile.
The study’s findings could have potential in managing the mental decline associated with aging, or helping people with brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or depression, according to scientists at the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research.
Researchers there, working in collaboration with scientists at Northumbria University in the U.K., showed that compounds found in New Zealand blackcurrants increased mental performance, including accuracy, attention, and mood.
The study also found that juice from a specific New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar, called “Blackadder,” also reduced the activity of a family of enzymes called monoamine oxidases, which regulate serotonin and dopamine concentrations in the brain.
These neurotransmitter chemicals are known to affect mood and cognition, and are the focus for treatments of both neurodegenerative symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease and mood disorders, including stress and anxiety, the researchers explained.
“This study is the first to look at the effects of berry consumption on the cognitive performance of healthy young adults,” said Dr. Arjan Scheepens, who led the study.
“Our previous research has suggested that compounds found in certain berryfruit may act like monoamine oxidase inhibitors, similar to a class of pharmaceuticals commonly used in the treatment of both mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease. This research has shown that New Zealand-grown blackcurrants not only increase mental performance, but also reduce the activity of monoamine oxidases.”
One of the key trends in the food industry is the development of ingredients and foods that have beneficial effects on human health, noted Professor Roger Hurst, Science Group Leader Food & Wellness at Plant & Food Research.
“Understanding what, and how, foods affect mental performance could lead to the development of new foods designed for populations or situations where mental performance or mental decline is a factor, such as older people or those suffering from stress, anxiety, or other mood disorders.
“This research shows how New Zealand blackcurrants can potentially add value, both for the food industry and for people looking for foods that naturally support their own health aspirations.”
Participants in the study — 36 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 35 — consumed a 250 ml drink prior to conducting a set of demanding mental performance assessments. The participants consumed either a sugar- and taste-matched placebo with no blackcurrant, an anthocyanin-enriched New Zealand blackcurrant extract (Delcyan from Just the Berries), or a cold-pressed juice from the New Zealand blackcurrant cultivar Blackadder, bred by Plant & Food Research.
The researchers discovered that after consuming the Delcyan and Blackadder drinks, attention and mood were improved, while mental fatigue was reduced.
Additionally, blood tests showed that the activity of the monoamine oxidase enzymes (MAO) was strongly decreased after consuming the Blackadder juice, indicating the potential for compounds found in Blackadder blackcurrants to support brain health or manage the symptoms of disorders like Parkinson’s disease, according to the researchers.
The study was published in the Journal of Functional Foods.