Strawberries may increase cognitive function, according to a new study

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Davi Sherman
Published November 15, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Participants with self-reported mild cognitive decline showed improvement after 12 weeks of daily strawberry supplementation.

  • These results are similar to those of other studies looking into how the anti-inflammatory properties of strawberries could have positive effects on brain health.

Participants in a 12-week study who took 13 grams of strawberry powder daily made fewer errors in a word list learning test and reported fewer symptoms of depression. []

The double-blind study was a placebo-controlled trial that included 30 participants: five men and 25 women. Participants were all adults between 50 and 65 years old who had BMIs of at least 25 and who were aware of mild cognitive decline. The study excluded participants with metabolic or neurological conditions that could affect the results, as well as participants taking certain medications or those who had moderate to severe cognitive decline.[] 

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center gave one group of participants a strawberry powder that contained whole fruit that had been desiccated, freeze-dried, and milled. Each serving was equivalent to about 1 cup of whole fresh strawberries and contained 36.8 milligrams of anthocyanins.[]

The second group was given a fiber powder that had the same appearance, taste, and amount of carbohydrates as the strawberry powder that did not contain any fruit. The groups were asked to take one packet each day and to avoid eating or drinking any berry fruits, juices, and extracts during the study.[]

At the end of the study, participants who received the strawberry powder reported having fewer symptoms of depression. They also performed better when given a word list learning test, making fewer intrusion errors than the control group. Researchers attribute these benefits to the anti-inflammatory properties of the anthocyanins found in strawberries. It’s believed that anthocyanins have cognitive benefits and can reduce neuroinflammation, which contributes to brain dysfunction. Earlier studies, including studies using blueberries—a fruit containing even higher levels of anthocyanins—have come to similar conclusions.[]

Researchers are interested in what these findings could mean for the future of dementia prevention. There’s already solid evidence that some lifestyle habits can lower the risk of dementia. For instance, steps such as staying physically active, not smoking, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and taking steps to manage heart health and diabetes are linked to reduced dementia risk. Identifying ways to prevent or reduce the risk of dementia through food intake or supplements could significantly increase our understanding of this condition. 

In the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center study, researchers acknowledged some limitations, including a small sample group and a short testing window. However, they state that their findings point to the need for further investigation into this potentially powerful benefit of strawberries.[][]

Nutrition and dementia

In March 2023, a large study on the effects of vitamin D on dementia prevention was published. The results demonstrated significant dementia reduction with the use of vitamin D, confirming the findings of previous, smaller studies. Overall, the study associated exposure to vitamin D with a 40% lower incidence of dementia.[] 

Other studies have looked at additional possible nutrition-based ways to reduce dementia risks. For instance, one of the often cited benefits of the Mediterranean diet is its ability to protect brain health and lower dementia risk. There is some research to back up this claim, including a 2023 study conducted by researchers at Rush University Medical Center. The study also looked at the MIND diet, a diet that combines the Mediterranean diet with the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. It found that the diet could slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s.[] 

More research is needed to prove that these diets, or any combination thereof, can prevent or reduce the risk of dementia. However, there are health benefits linked to these plant- and whole grain–based diets: they’re heart-healthy and full of nutrients, making them a good choice for most patients, even if there isn’t yet a proven link to dementia reduction. 

Strawberries pack a punch

The positive health benefits of strawberries reach beyond their possible cognitive effects. As is true of most fruits and vegetables, strawberries are full of vitamins and nutrients. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a single serving of raw strawberries contains 32 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 58.8 milligrams of vitamin C, 13 milligrams of magnesium, and 153 milligrams of potassium. Studies looking into the broader benefits of strawberries have discovered that they might have heart health, anti-inflammatory, and other health effects.[] 

Notable strawberry research has included:

  • A multicenter study conducted at research universities in Oklahoma and Nevada found that obese adults who consumed 2.5 servings of strawberries daily for four weeks had improved insulin resistance.[]

  • A study conducted by the Oklahoma Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (OCTSI) at OUHSC and at the Department of Nutritional Sciences Clinical Assessment Unit at OSU found that adults with obesity and knee osteoarthritis experienced a significant reduction in knee pain after 12 weeks of consuming freeze-dried strawberry powder mixed in water daily.[] 

  • A study conducted at the Pennsylvania State University Clinical Research Center (CRC) found that four to six weeks of daily strawberry powder supplementation reduced cholesterol in middle-aged adults with obesity or overweight and elevated cholesterol. 

A study conducted by the Quality, Health and Nutrition Programme, Genes to Products Theme, Scottish Crop Research Institute, in Dundee, Scotland, found that polyphenol-rich berry extracts, including strawberry extract, were effective against colon and cervical cancer cells.[]

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