New brain health research indicates wild blueberries improve brain’s processing speed

October 6, 2022

 KANNAPOLIS, N.C. In a research study where volunteer participants with cognitive issues consumed wild blueberries daily for six months, the ability of the participants’ brains to process information improved. The findings from this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial have been published in Nutritional Neuroscience, an international scholarly journal on nutrition, diet, and the nervous system.

The paper’s lead author, Carol L. Cheatham, Ph.D. associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI), hypothesized that people who consume a flavonoid-rich, freeze-dried wild blueberry powder would show improvements in cognitive performance compared to those who consumed a placebo powder during the six month study. According to Dr. Cheatham, the study was particularly relevant in an aging society where cognitive decline and dementia will become a public health issue.

“We need interventions to improve brain health and, thus, quality of life for older adults, especially now that Boomers are reaching the age when brain health becomes a pressing concern,” she said.


The US study included eighty-six older adults (age 65 – 80 years) who were, by self-report and the report of a close confidant, experiencing some cognitive issues. Another forty-three older adults who reported not experiencing any issues were included as a reference group. All participants underwent testing to confirm their cognitive status. The eighty-six older adults were randomly assigned to either the wild blueberry powder or a placebo powder study group and instructed to include the powder in their daily diet. During the six month study, participants were tested nine times. Testing included cognitive and physical assessments plus diet questionnaires. At the end of the research study, cognitive abilities were tested again. The tests included the Cambridge Neurological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) and a brain imaging technique known as event-related potentials (ERP). Results of those receiving wild blueberry powder or placebo were compared to the reference group who received neither product.

The results showed that a basic cognitive ability—speed of processing—was improved in the wild blueberry group. In fact, speed of processing was restored to the level of those in the reference group who were not experiencing cognitive decline. Speed of processing is the speed with which the brain moves information, and it underlies all cognitive abilities. How quickly a person can recall a word, make a decision, recall a memory, or even remember a phone number, depends on speed of processing.

Daily consumption of wild blueberries for six months, therefore, improves brain health.

“This six month study adds to the growing body of research evidence documenting benefits to human cognition associated with wild blueberry consumption,” added Wilhelmina Kalt, Ph.D. and advisor to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “Across the body of wild blueberry research to date, clinical benefits have been shown with older adults, older adults with mild cognitive impairment and with adolescents, as well as in short-term and long-term intake studies. This suggests that wild blueberries may impact fundamental processes that affect human cognition.”

Why wild blueberries?

Mary Ann Lila, Ph.D. and director of the NC State Plants for Human Health Institute is a world-renowned expert in berries, and an author on the research paper. “The wild blueberry has a phytochemical profile that has been tailored by the harsh environments of Eastern Canada and Maine and the surrounding areas where they grow. The wild blueberry’s adaptation to this environment has resulted in a diverse phytochemical profile that gives the wild blueberry an incredible potency for human health,” said Dr. Lila. She added, “Phytochemicals are compounds in plants that develop to defend the plant from environmental stress, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Once consumed by humans, they transfer these health benefits to us. The research study conducted here at the NRI shows that the phytochemicals specific to the wild blueberry are important for brain health.”

Health benefits all year: in the freezer

Wild blueberries are grown in Canada in Quebec, Atlantic provinces and Maine and can be found in the grocery freezer section since fresh berries do not transport well to distant locations. The wild blueberries are individually quick frozen (IQF) within hours of being harvested at the peak of ripeness from the barrens where they grow. The IQF process flash freezes and preserves one hundred per cent of the phytochemical integrity and complexity of the berry, thereby preserving all the health benefits for the consumer. They are often added to smoothies, oatmeal, or yogurt, and are good for snacking.

“The study adds to the ever-growing body of evidence that shows that consuming wild blueberries can impact brain function,” added Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, LD and nutrition advisor for the Wild Blueberry Association of North America. “Dr. Cheatham and her team’s work is important for helping define the connection between long-term consumption of wild blueberries with improvements in specific aspects of cognition. Combined with the short-term studies that have been done on wild blueberries and cognition, this new evidence helps provide a more complete picture of the beneficial cognitive effects that eating wild blueberries can have and that eating these berries daily may be a practical and effective part of a brain-healthy diet.”

About the UNC Nutrition Research Institute

The UNC Nutrition Research Institute’s mission is to advance the field of precision nutrition by investigating how genes, environment, and microbiome affect an individual’s requirements for and responses to nutrients. Every person is metabolically unique. The NRI is dedicated to finding out how these differences affect an individual’s health so that current one-size-fits-all dietary guidelines can be replaced with customized nutritional recommendations and actions to improve a person’s health and quality of life. Learn more at and visit on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

About Wild Blueberry Association of North America

The Wild Blueberry Association of North America (WBANA) is a trade association of farmers and processors of wild blueberries from Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Maine, who are dedicated to bringing the wild blueberry health story and unique wild advantages to consumers and the trade worldwide. WBANA is dedicated to furthering research that explores the health potential of wild blueberries.

Hundreds of studies have been conducted on the potential health and disease fighting benefits of wild blueberries. For news, recipes, and related health information about wild blueberries, visit and Visit on FacebookInstagram or on Twitter @canadianwildbb and @wildbberries.



Consultant to the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, Wilhelmina Kalt, Ph.D. is available to share her knowledge and research on the health benefits of wild blueberries. She has studied the horticultural and food factors that influence fruit bioactive content, and in more recent animal and human studies has characterized how bioactive pigments, which are abundant in wild blueberries, are absorbed by the body. She has collaborated in clinical studies in various fields of biomedicine to examine the effects of wild blueberries in a free-living human population.

Media: For more wild blueberry information, visuals or to schedule an interview or broadcast segment with Dr. Wilhelmina Kalt, Ph.D., or for healthy recipes and a cooking segment with a chef from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, please contact Susan Willemsen at The Siren Group Inc. Tel: (416) 461-1567. Email: and @thesirengroup.