Blueberries are known as one of the optimal foods for the brain and for improving mood. New research in animals (1) shows that blueberries protect against PTSD and suicidal behavior. Adding blueberries to the diet of rats that show PTSD symptoms increases the amount of a gene called SKA2 in the blood.
Low levels of SKA2 in human blood samples has already been associated with PTSD symptoms and suicidal behavior (2). In addition low SKA2 levels are associated with a thinning frontal cortex (the logical center of the brain) in patients with severe PTSD (3). It is now believed that SKA2 might keep cortisol levels high, therefore after a traumatic event, levels stay higher for longer possibly increasing the chances of physical and psychological symptoms of PTSD.
The rats with PTSD given the human equivalent of two cups of blueberries a day showed increased levels of SKA2 in the blood and in the frontal cortex. Additionally, a previous study from the same group showed giving blueberries increased serotonin levels.
How might this be the case? The many compounds of phytonutrients in blueberries, some that are responsible for its dark color, interact with DNA. These interactions leave their mark with the DNA altering the amount of the gene that is produced. Just as stress can alter the amount of gene produced, certain compounds in food can reverse this effect. Simply, our DNA is responsive to our environment.
Low serotonin levels are also associated with PTSD and suicidal behavior and therefore SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake receptors or anti-depressants) are the first line of treatment for many and suicidal behavior, however the efficacy rates are low. While the connection between SKA2 and serotonin has not yet been determined, the fact remains that blueberries might not hurt. In fact, they may help.
(1) Ebenezer et al FASEB 2016
(2) Kaminsky Z et al Transl Psychiatry 2015
(3) Sadeh N et al Mol Psych 2016