Haskapa and Brain Health

Haskapa and Brain Health

Dr Evie Kemp Haskapa co-founder

More than ever before people are looking for ways to live a healthy and happy life, for longer. One of the keys to this ambition is remaining in good brain health as we age.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) around 50 million people are currently living with dementia, and this has become a major cause of worldwide disability. Dementia is a rapidly growing public health challenge and the WHO has estimated that the number of people affected will grow to around 82 million by 2030. Although age is the most important risk factor for cognitive decline, dementia is not an inevitable outcome of our ageing process. Recent research has shown there is a relationship between several of our lifestyle choices and the development of cognitive decline including lack of exercise, unhealthy diet and harmful use of alcohol and tobacco. Lack of social contact and not challenging our brains may also play an important role. The good news is that we can learn to modify these risk factors with the aim of delaying or slowing cognitive decline and dementia.1

Diet is one of the most important risk factors that can be modified. For example, doctors from Harvard Medical School have recommended we eat five foods which have been linked to slowing cognitive decline and achieving “better brainpower”. They are green vegetables, fatty fish, berries, tea/coffee and walnuts.2   Doctors Dean and Ayesha Sherzai, wife-and-husband neurologists and Alzheimer’s researchers, recommend eating the NEURO9; nine foods for optimal brain health including berries, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, seeds, beans and nuts.3

What is the evidence about berries and cognitive health?

There is growing research evidence to suggest a diet containing berries may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline as we age. It is becoming clear that a group of plant chemicals called anthocyanins are the key to understanding these berry health benefits. Anthocyanins are naturally occurring plant pigments that give fruit and vegetables their deep purple, blue and red colours.

A large population study published in 2012 assessed cognition and diet in 16,010 female participants age 70 or older.  The women who had consumed a higher anthocyanin diet (by regularly eating berries) showed a delay in cognitive ageing by up to two and a half years.4

The evidence from clinical studies is growing as well. A review of 18 clinical research trials looked at the effect of berry anthocyanins on cognitive performance. Results showed significant improvements in memory in the berry eaters, with some studies also reporting positive effects on attention, processing speed and executive function.5

Anthocyanins are thought to protect our brains in a variety of ways including fighting inflammation, improving blood flow, protection from toxins as well as their potent antioxidant activity.6

Is there any evidence on the positive effects of anthocyanins and brain health from the Blue Zones?

The Blue Zones are five regions in the world with the healthiest, longest-living populations, including Okinawa in Japan.

In the 2016 BBC1 documentary “How to Stay Young” Angela Rippon investigated why the people of Okinawa live such long lives with low rates of dementia and heart disease. Scientists discovered that the secret to the islanders’ longevity was their diet, in particular their regular consumption of purple sweet potato containing significant quantities of anthocyanins. In the program a scientist from the Norwich Institute of Research explained “there is good scientific evidence that anthocyanins are good for blood flow, delivering the nutrients and oxygen your brain needs to work well”. He went on to recommend: “we now know not just 5 fruit and veg per day… but perhaps you should include two purple ones in your diet, because we have established sufficient evidence that they are consistently good for your brain and for other elements of your health.”7

What’s special about haskap berries?

As a result of their abundant vibrant colour with double blue-purple skin and deep crimson flesh, haskap berries contain four times more anthocyanins than blueberries.

Haskapa has been commissioning clinical research on haskap berries. The first pilot study was published by a team from the University of Reading in the European Journal of Nutrition in December 2018. The study looked at the acute effects of three haskap berry doses and a placebo on 20 older adults, age 62-81 years. Results showed improvements in memory (remembering and recognising lists of words) and diastolic blood pressure.8

How much anthocyanin should we eat each day?

Although there is still no agreed daily intake value for anthocyanins, a recent review paper recommended that we eat 50mg anthocyanins per day for optimal benefit.9 Most people in northern European counties, including the UK consume much lower amounts.10

So, taking just one to two teaspoons of Haskapa berry powder each day will give you your daily anthocyanin boost,  and your brain will say thank you.


  1. Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  2. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat
  3. https://thebraindocs.com
  4. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, Grodstein F.Ann Neurol. 2012 Jul;72(1):135-43.
  5. Ahles S, Joris PJ, Plat J. Effects of Berry Anthocyanins on Cognitive Performance, Vascular Function and Cardiometabolic Risk Markers: A Systematic Review of Randomized Placebo-Controlled Intervention Studies in Humans. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Jun 17;22(12):6482. doi: 10.3390/ijms22126482. PMID: 34204250; PMCID: PMC8234025.
  6. Paul F Jacques, Rhoda Au, Jeffrey B Blumberg, Gail T Rogers, Esra Shishtar. Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and risk of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa079
  7. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03q0lnd
  8. A pilot dose–response study of the acute effects of haskap berry extract (Lonicera caerulea) on cognition, mood, and blood pressure in older adults. Bell, L. & Williams, C.M. Eur JNutr (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-018-1877-9
  9. Recent research on the health benefits of blueberries and their anthocyanins. Wilhelmina Kalt,  Aedin Cassidy,  Luke R Howard,  Robert Krikorian,  April J Stull,  Francois Tremblay, Raul Zamora-Ros. Advances in Nutrition, nmz065, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz065 (Published: 22 July 2019)
  10. Igwe, Ezinne & Charlton, Karen & Probst, Yasmine. (2019). Usual dietary anthocyanin intake, sources and their association with blood pressure in a representative sample of Australian adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 32. 10.1111/jhn.12647.