Adding strawberries to your cereal, salad or smoothie can likely help protect your brain from Alzheimer’s disease, suggests a study.

The researchers from RUSH University in the US found that a bioactive compound found in strawberries called pelargonidin may be associated with fewer neurofibrillary tau tangles in the brain.

Tau tangles are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, which is caused by abnormal changes in tau proteins that accumulate in the brain.

“We suspect the anti-inflammatory properties of pelargonidin may decrease overall neuroinflammation, which may reduce cytokine production,” said study author Julie Schneider, Associate Professor, and neuropathologist with the RUSH Alzheimer’s Disease Centre.

Cytokines are proteins produced by cells, and they can regulate various inflammatory responses. Inflammation in the brain has been linked to Alzheimer’s pathology such as plaques and tangles. The data suggest that pelargonidin may protect the aging brain from developing Alzheimer’s pathology.

Among berries, strawberries are the most abundant source of pelargonidin.

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“While pelargonidin should be examined further for their role in maintaining brain health in older adults, this gives a simple change that anyone can make in their diet,” said RADC nutritional epidemiologist Puja Agarwal, Assistant Professor of internal medicine at RUSH.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The team looked at data of a total of 575 deceased participants with complete dietary information during the follow-up and brain autopsies whose average age of death was 91.3 years.

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A total of 452 people were non-carriers of the APOE 4 gene and a total of 120 participants with APOE 4, which is the strongest genetic risk factor gene for Alzheimer’s disease.

“We did not observe the same effect in people with the APOE 4 gene that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but that may be due to the smaller sample size of individuals in this study who had the gene,” said Agarwal.

“The study was an observational study and does not prove a direct causal relationship. Further research is needed to understand the role of nutrition in Alzheimer’s Disease, but this study gives us hope on how specific dietary components such as berries may help brain health.”