Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD, conducts epidemiologic research primarily on diet and lifestyle factors that are associated with cognitive aging. Her ultimate goal is to identify targeted strategies that can help alleviate the burden of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults. The majority of her research is based in the large, prospective Nurses’ Health Study cohort, although she collaborates with international cohorts as well. She currently holds positions as Associate Epidemiologist at Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Instructor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, in Boston.
She completed her doctoral training at the Harvard School of Public Health in 2007, and her postdoctoral training jointly at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Berries are high in flavonoids, especially anthocyanidins, and improve cognition in experimental studies 1-4
Therefore, we prospectively evaluated whether greater long-term intakes of berries and flavonoids are associated with slower rates of cognitive decline in older women. Beginning in 1980, a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire was administered every four years to Nursesâ€™ Health Study participants. In 1995-2001, we began measuring cognitive function in 16,010 participants, aged â‰¥70 years; follow-up assessments were conducted twice, at two-year intervals. To ascertain long-term diet, we averaged dietary variables from 1980 through the initial cognitive interview. Using multivariable-adjusted, mixed linear regression, we estimated mean differences in slopes of cognitive decline by long-term berry and flavonoid intakes. Our results indicated that greater intakes of blueberries and strawberries were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline (e.g., for a global score averaging all six cognitive tests, for blueberries: p-trend=0.014 and mean difference=0.04 [95% CI=0.01, 0.07] comparing extreme categories of intake; for strawberries: p-trend=0.022 and mean difference=0.03 [95% CI=0.00, 0.06] comparing extreme categories of intake), after adjusting for multiple potential confounders5. These effect estimates were equivalent to those we find for approximately 1.5 to 2.5 years of age in our cohort, indicating that berry intake appears to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years.
Additionally, in further supporting evidence, greater intakes of anthocyanidins and total flavonoids were associated with slower rates of cognitive decline (p-trends=0.015 and 0.053, respectively, for the global score). Thus, higher intake of flavonoids, particularly from berries, appears to reduce rates of cognitive decline in older adults.
Key words: Blueberries; strawberries; cognition; epidemiology
1. Spencer JP. Flavonoids: modulators of brain function? Br J Nutr. May 2008;99 E Suppl 1:ES60-77.
2. Willis LM, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA. Modulation of cognition and behavior in aged animals: role for antioxidant- and essential fatty acid-rich plant foods. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2009;89(5):1602S-1606S.
3. Shukitt-Hale B, Carey A, Simon L, Mark DA, Joseph JA. Effects of Concord grape juice on cognitive and motor deficits in aging. Nutrition. Mar
4. Shukitt-Hale B, Cheng V, Joseph JA. Effects of blackberries on motor and cognitive function in aged rats. Nutr Neurosci. Jun 2009;12(3):135-140.
5. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, Grodstein F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann Neurol. Jul 2012;72(1):135-143.