A new study suggests that a daily dose of blueberry juice could improve memory.

Though small, this new study, which was published in Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, is the first to show a potential benefit of blueberries in improving memory in older adults at risk for dementia.

Researchers had 16 participants, all of whom were in their 70s and having memory lapses, drink either 20 ounces of blueberry juice or 20 ounces of another beverage that had no fruit juice in it each day for 12 weeks. The blueberry juice was made from commercially available frozen wild blueberries.

They found that the group that drank blueberry juice showed a significant improvement in memory function and learning and memory tests – including word association and list learning – compared to the placebo group.

“It’s definitely an interesting finding and something that indicates (the effects of blueberries) should be pursued,” says lead researcher Robert Krikorian, PhD, in the department of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center in Ohio.

Researchers say blueberries are chock full of phytochemicals, chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

“In and of itself it doesn’t prove anything, but in the context of the relatively large animal literature, there’s a lot of basic science support for this in animal studies that supports the idea that blueberries or constituents of blueberries can have beneficial effects on inflammation and metabolic benefits,” Krikorian says.

This was a very small testing group. Researchers say that’s because it was one of the first human studies ever done with blueberries and they were looking for positive signals to do more research.

They believe they got that and now they have funding to do two other studies on the benefits of blueberries. But Krikorian says there’s likely nothing wrong with changing your drinking habits now to include blueberry juice based on these initial findings.

“I don’t see any problem with drinking a cup a day. There’s no known negative effect. That’s the wonderful thing about fruits and vegetables. They are beneficial and don’t have adverse side effects. Given that and the animal data and existing human data, it seems like a good bet without any penalty,” he says.

Michele MacDonnell, a registered dietician and the Clinical Nutrition Manager at New Milford Hospital in Connecticut says she sees one potential problem – the calories.

“The amount used was 15 to 20 ounces a day. That’s a lot and that adds calories which can lead to weight gain,” she says. “So before everyone goes out and starts drinking 20 ounces of blueberry juice a day, they need to account for that and decrease calories in other areas to avoid weight gain.”

So if you don’t want to drink the blueberry juice, is it OK to just eat a bunch of the berries? "I don’t think anyone knows the answer if it’s better to eat or drink it,” Dr. Krikorian says. “Both are beneficial but it’s not clear if it’s better to eat the fruit, drink the juice or have another preparation.”

MacDonnell also points out that this study was very limited with only nine participants, but she still finds it interesting.

“I’m going to tell my mom to start eating more blueberries,” she says. “It’s definitely interesting and definitely has some potential, and it again confirms we should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Blueberries and all berries are really healthy for us.