Barfoot KL, May G, Lamport DJ, Ricketts J, Riddell PM, Williams CM (2019) Eur J Nutr. 2019 Oct;58(7): 2911-2920. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1843-6. Epub 2018 Oct 16.
Previous evidence suggests consumption of flavonoids, a sub-class of polyphenols, is associated with improved cognitive function across the lifespan. In particular, acute intervention of a flavonoid-rich wild blueberry (WBB) drink has been shown to boost executive function (EF), short-term memory and mood 2-6 h post-consumption in 7-10-year-old children. However, confirmation of the aspects of EF and memory susceptible to WBB ingestion is required, particularly during childhood, a critical period of neurological development. In addition, the child literature on berry flavonoid supplementation and cognition highlights the potential for such interventions to elicit positive benefits to real-world educational scenarios, such as reading, a complex ability which relies upon aspects of cognition already known to improve following WBB.
Here we examined which aspects of EF and memory are susceptible to acute WBB, as well as investigating whether acute WBB could further benefit reading ability. Fifty-four healthy children, aged 7-10 years, consumed a 200 ml WBB drink (253 mg anthocyanins) or a matched placebo according to a randomised, single-blind, parallel-groups design. Verbal memory (Auditory Verbal Learning Task; AVLT), EF (Modified Attention Network Task; MANT), and reading efficiency (Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2; TOWRE-2) were assessed at baseline and 2 h post-consumption.
For the MANT, significantly quicker RTs were observed for WBB participants when compared to placebo participants on 120 ms trials, without cost to accuracy. Furthermore, WBB participants showed enhanced verbal memory performance on the AVLT, recalling more words than placebo participants on short delay and memory acquisition measures post-consumption. Despite these significant improvements in cognitive performance, no significant effects were observed for reading measures.
Consumption of WBB was found to significantly improve memory and attentional aspects of EF. This indicates that a flavonoid-rich blueberry product, equivalent to 240 g or 1½ cups of fresh blueberries can provide acute cognitive benefits in children. These findings support accumulating evidence that flavonoid-rich products are beneficial for healthy brain function, particularly during critical developmental periods. However, the lack of findings relating to reading ability suggested acute WBB may not be sufficient to elicit benefits to reading. Chronic supplementation and other more sensitive reading measures should be considered for examining the effects of WBB on such a complex skill in the future.