Blueberries & Memory Loss

[BPSDB] I dunno. You wait all month for some media over-interpretation of research, then you get two helpings in quick succession. I have pv of badscience to thank for posting this link which states that:

“Scientists claim blueberries activate learning and memory in the brain. Eating blueberries can reverse memory loss and may have implications in the treatment of diseases like Alzheimer’s, University of Reading scientists claim.”

As is usual with the mass media, there does not appear to be a link to the original research. Before I could get around to googling another badsciencer, ar42, did so and found the abstract. It begins:-

“Phytochemical-rich foods have been shown to be effective at reversing age-related deficits in memory in both animals and humans.”

Ooo. Sounds promising, although it does not mention Alzheimer’s.¬†Unfortunately it goes on to say:-

“We show that a supplementation with a blueberry diet (2% w/w) for 12 weeks improves the performance of aged animals in spatial working memory tasks.”

Suddenly humans (and Alzheimer’s) are no longer mentioned. What species were these “aged animals” anyway? Chimps? Dogs? Rats? You can’t find out unless you want to pay for the whole article but knowing would have some bearing on how safe we would be in assuming that these animal experiments are applicable to humans.

One of the scientists quoted by the BBC, Dr Jeremy Spencer of Reading University, says:-

“Our research provides scientific evidence to show that blueberries are good for you and supports the idea that a diet-based approach could potentially be used to increase memory capacity”

Note the use of the phrase “good for you”, which clearly implies that these results are confirmed as applicable to humans. Unless Dr Spencer is in the habit of chatting to his lab rats of course.

It is common to read about journalists misinterpretting scientific findings (Ben Goldacre frequently features them in his Guardian column) but frankly, in this case, I do not think that the BBC is entirely to blame. Scientists do need to be careful in communicating their findings to journalists, who generally do not have a science background

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2 Responses to “Blueberries & Memory Loss”

  1. draust Says:

    Well, it’s rats, of course. But it is rather sloppy of the authors not to have mentioned it in the abstract of the paper, and the journalists not to have mentioned it in the article.

  2. Robert Harris Says:

    My dear father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after being given a memory test. But what memory test can you give a rat?

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