Blueberries may offer benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder
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In the new study, the team focused on the role of a gene called SKA2, a gene that other researchers have found is expressed at abnormally low levels in people who have committed suicide. Although it is impossible to know whether a rat is experiencing suicidal thoughts, Francis and Ebenezer found that rats with PTSD-like effects express SKA2 at low levels compared with normal laboratory rats, bolstering the evidence for the role of SKA2 in psychological problems and suggesting the team’s PTSD-like rats can be a useful model for studying the biochemistry behind suicidal tendencies.
The researchers then fed some of the PTSD-like rats a diet rich in blueberries — the equivalent of about two cups per day for a person — and found that SKA2 levels increased compared with rats fed a normal diet, suggesting the blueberries had a beneficial effect.
“In the PTSD animals, there was a decrease in the SKA2 levels in the blood, as well as in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, compared to non-PTSD rats,” said Francis. “Since these levels increased when we fed them blueberries, the findings suggest that a nonpharmacological agent like blueberries can have an effect on the expression of this important gene.”
The work builds on a study released last year, in which Francis and Ebenezer found that rats with the PTSD-like experience fed a blueberry-enriched diet showed increased levels of the signaling chemical serotonin in the brain. Since serotonin is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being, that study suggested blueberries might help to alleviate depression in patients with PTSD.