According to a new study, seniors wishing to boost their cognitive performance would likely do well to drink plenty of Montmorency tart cherry juice. Improvements observed in test subjects who drank the juice may be due to "bioactive compounds" that occur naturally in the cherries.

Scientists from the University of Delaware started by selecting 34 healthy volunteers aged 65 to 73 years old. They were in turn randomly divided into two groups – one group consumed 16 oz (480 ml) of the cherry juice every day for 12 weeks (half of the juice in the morning, and half in the evening), while the other group consumed a placebo drink.

None of the participants were taking any medications that might affect brain function, and they maintained their usual diet and level of physical activity throughout the testing period. Additionally (and pretty obviously), none of them knew if they were getting the actual cherry juice or the placebo.

Once the 12 weeks were up, it was found that the test subjects who drank the real juice experienced a 23-percent reduction in errors while performing an episodic visual memory task. By contrast, members of the control group showed little if any improvement in that same task, which is designed to assess visual memory and new learning.

Additionally, as compared to baseline values, the juice-drinkers showed a 5-percent increase in satisfaction with their ability to remember things; a 4-percent reduction in movement time, which is a measurement of the speed of response to visual stimuli; a 3-percent improvement in visual sustained attention, which is a measurement of visual information processing; and an 18-percent reduction in errors while performing a spatial working memory task, which is used to assess memory and strategy use.

"The potential beneficial effects of tart cherries may be related to the bioactive compounds they possess, which include polyphenols, anthocyanins and melanin," says Asst. Prof. Sheau Ching Chai, lead author of a paper on the study. "They may also be related to tart cherry's potential blood-pressure lowering effects, outlined in a previous study we conducted in the same population, as blood pressure can influence blood flow to the brain."

Despite the promising initial findings, the scientists state that a longer-term trial involving more participants is necessary in order to confirm the beneficial effects of drinking cherry juice.

The research paper was recently published in the journal Food & Function.