Pterostilbene is a neuroprotective antioxidant that maintains youthful brainpower in aging brains.
Blueberries are known for fighting age-related brain fog; their pterostilbene is one reason why. This powerful fruit antioxidant might help support sharp mental performance by:
- Protecting neurons. It s a potent, bioavailable antioxidant that crosses the blood-brain barrier and boosts other antioxidants, like superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione peroxidase (GPx).
- Sustaining dopamine. Early research says pterostilbene may preserve this brain chemical for attention, memory and higher cognitive functions.
- Promoting “plasticity.” Plasticity–when brain cells flex, reorganize and connect in new ways–enables memory and learning functions.
- Maintaining blood vessels. Polyphenol antioxidants support vascular integrity, promoting the circulation that is critical for healthy brain function.
People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables reduce their risk of age-related mental decline. Scientists believe this may be thanks to polyphenol antioxidants, which fight the “age-accelerating” effects of free radicals within the brain’s delicate tissues. Berries are an especially rich source of polyphenols, and are valued for reversing the symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.1 In grapes (yes, grapes are berries), one polyphenol called resveratrol has drawn special interest for its potential to support “youthful” mental performance, with research suggesting it may:2
- Nourish the brain with protective antioxidant activity
- Reduce brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s
- Help with cholesterol, a big risk factor for Alzheimer’s
- Support the integrity of cerebral blood vessels
- Signal for BDNF, a “brain fertilizer” for neurogenesis3
With these, and many other helpful bio-activities, resveratrol has great potential for improving brain health. But there’s one big problem: Resveratrol is poorly absorbed, with only 20% reaching the bloodstream after oral supplementation. This frustrating limitation burst resveratrol’s brain-boosting bubble… and opened the door for another berry antioxidant: Pterostilbene.
Pterostilbene is 4X as bioavailable as resveratrol
Found in blueberries, pterostilbene is an “analogue” of resveratrol: It is in the same antioxidant family (both are stilbenes), has a very similar chemical structure, and is believed to exert many of the same beneficial biological activities in the body and the brain. Pterostilbene has a big advantage over resveratrol, however:
- Resveratrol is 20% bioavailable, while pterostilbene is 80% bioavailable—potentially making it 4X as effective for brain health.4
Pterostilbene has other advantages over resveratrol, too: It is sustained longer in the blood, is “grabbed” and utilized more easily by brain cells, and is more stable.5
Our take: Pterostilbene may eclipse resveratrol’s vast brain-boosting potential–it has similar bio-activities, but is easier to absorb and use.
How might pterostilbene help mental performance?
Pterostilbene’s most likely benefits are related to fighting age-related cognitive decline, which you may not “feel” until later in life. However, some research suggests it may deliver more immediate benefits– improving working memory, enhancing cognition, and easing anxiety while maintaining clear thinking.
Pterostilbene might be a breakthrough, but it’s still relatively new–we didn’t find any compelling human brain research. Let’s check out some of the positive animal research that we found.
One study evaluated how six resveratrol analogues might improve the brain health of rats. Pterostilbene was found to be the most effective of all these compounds, with deeper study revealing it appeared to help reverse cognitive decline and promote release of dopamine (an important brain chemical for cognition).
- Researchers concluded that working memory performance improved proportionally as pterostilbene levels in the rats’ brain’s hippocampus increased. 6
In this study, mice were given either pterostilbene or resveratrol for two months, and were then tested with the “radial arm water maze” that evaluates working memory and spatial learning. Researchers reported that pterostilbene significantly improved mental performance in the test, while resveratrol brought no change. Pterostilbene also helped with oxidative stress, inflammation, and other contributors to brain degeneration, while resveratrol had no such effects.
- Researchers concluded that “pterostilbene is a more potent modulator of cognition and cellular stress than resveratrol.” 7
Researchers gave mice pterostilbene for three days, and then induced brain injury by limiting cerebral blood flow (sorry, mice). Pterostilbene was administered right after blood flow was restored to the brain, and again 1 hour and 3 hours afterwards. Researchers discovered pterostilbene significantly improved brain cell survival, improved motor function and lessened blood-brain barrier disruption.
- Researchers concluded pterostilebene exerted a “neuroprotective effect” via its antioxidant activity. 8
In another animal study, adult male mice were given pterostilbene and run through the Elevated Plus Maze (EPM), a protocol that measures anxiety. Researchers noted that pterostilbene was detectable in the mouse brain after a single oral dose, and exerted anti-anxiety effects without the “sedating” side effects of some anxiety drugs. Lower pterostilbene dosage seemed more effective than bigger doses.
- Researchers concluded pterostilbene may have the potential to be developed into a therapy for anxiety disorders. 9
Blueberries Boost Brain Plasticity
A red-hot area of brain research, “neuroplasticity” refers to neurons’ ability to shift around, reorganize, and connect new neural pathways. This happens when we learn, memorize, or go through new experiences. Neuroplasticity is the driving force behind brain development in childhood. It also powers neurogenesis (new brain cell creation) and brain repair after injury. With age, plasticity “stiffens,” which is tied to foggy memory, slow mental speed, and other symptoms of age-related cognitive decline.
Blueberries, the richest source of pterostilbene, improve multiple aspects of brain plasticity–an effect shown to enhance memory performance.10
Retail pterostilbene supplements may supply a wide range of active ingredient–anywhere from 5 mg to 250 mg, with 50 mg being the most popular dosage.
Pterostilbene is a botanical antioxidant that is very well-tolerated, with no significant side effects. It’s no more risky than eating blueberries.
- Pterostilbene: It is available as a straight-up antioxidant with no bells-and-whistles, which may be presented in standalone supplements or in complex brain-booster formulas.
- pTeroPure®: This “branded” pterostilbene from blueberries is made with patented technology that yields 99.9% purity. It has undergone some clinical testing, and is more expensive as a result.
- Blueberries. You’d have to eat a ton of blueberries to get enough pterostilbene. Blueberry supplements–especially high-potency extracts–supply more, but do not disclose how much.
In addition to these forms, some products will combine pterostilbene with its nutritional “cousin,” resveratrol. This is based on the theory these two similar nutrients may complement each other.
Supplements in Review Recommendation
- Pterostilbene, 10 mg
Pterostilbene is a polyphenol antioxidant that fights age-related cognitive decline. We feel it is a strong choice for nutritional regimens designed to support healthy brain aging. Early evidence suggests pterostilbene may be a “less is more” nutrient; some also advocate taking it at the natural levels found in blueberries, which tend to be lower. This is why we recommend a lower dosage of 10 mg. Pterostilbene is well-suited for complex brain booster formulas because it may deliver brain benefits while taking up very little space in a tablet or capsule.
- Cherniack EP. A berry thought-provoking idea: the potential role of plant polyphenols in the treatment of age-related cognitive disorders. Br J Nutr. 2012 Sep;108(5):794-800. ↩
- Catalgol B, et al. Resveratrol: French paradox revisited. Front Pharmacol. 2012 Jul 17;3:141. ↩
- Rahvar M. Effect of oral resveratrol on the BDNF gene expression in the hippocampus of the rat brain. Neurochem Res. 2011 May;36(5):761-5. ↩
- M. Kapetanovic, M. Muzzio, Z. Huang, et al., “Pharmacokinetics, oral bioavailability, and metabolic profile of resveratrol and its dimethylether analog, pterostilbene, in rats,”Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology, vol. 68, no. 3, pp. 593–601, 2011. ↩
- Nutakul W, et al. Inhibitory effects of resveratrol and pterostilbene on human colon cancer cells: a side by side comparison. J Agric Food Chem. 2011 Oct 26; 59(20): 10964–10970. ↩
- Joseph JA, et al. Cellular and behavioral effects of stilbene resveratrol analogues: implications for reducing the deleterious effects of aging. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Nov 26;56(22):10544-51. ↩
- Chang J, et al. Low-dose pterostilbene, but not resveratrol, is a potent neuromodulator in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Sep;33(9):2062-71. ↩
- Zhou Y, et al. Orally administrated pterostilbene attenuates acute cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury in a dose- and time-dependent manner in mice. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2015 Aug;135:199-209. ↩
- Abir TE, et al. Anxiolytic action of pterostilbene: involvement of hippocampal ERK phosphorylation. FASEB J. April 2012 26 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 1045.4 ↩
- Casadesus G, et al. Modulation of hippocampal plasticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats. Nutr Neurosci. 2004 Oct-Dec;7(5-6):309-16. ↩