The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Boost Your Brain Power with Beverages

Beverages rich in polyphenols such as grape juice, cocoa or high-flavanone orange juice appear to improve cognitive function.

If there were a medicine to help you keep your brain functioning well, would you take it? Sadly, we are not aware of any such medication.

Beverages That Provide Powerful Polyphenols:

There is, however, increasing evidence you could maintain your cognitive edge with some fairly simple dietary changes. Just increase your intake of certain plant chemicals such as proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins and other flavonoids and polyphenols. These compounds provide the red, blue and purple colors in fruits.

Grape Juice for Harried Mothers:

The most recent research included 25 middle-aged working mothers in England. The study compared their performance on cognitive tests and a driving performance simulator when they were drinking twelve ounces of Concord grape juice or a look-alike, taste-alike placebo juice daily (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online Feb. 10, 2016).

The trial lasted six months and demonstrated subtle but significant improvements in spatial memory and driving performance when the women had been consuming Concord grape juice. (Welch provided the Concord grape juice and the placebo used in the study.) This finding is important, because the women were healthy and their brains were functioning normally, despite the stress of working full-time and having preteen children at home.

Concord Grape Juice and the Brain:

How does Concord grape juice help the brain? Perhaps its ability to increase the flexibility of blood vessels and improve blood flow might play a role (American Journal of Hypertension, Jan., 2014).

Other Sources of Polyphenols:

Grape juice is not the only food that increases blood vessel flexibility and enhances cognitive performance. Blueberries, blackberries and strawberries, like Concord grapes, are rich in colorful plant flavonoids. Animal research has demonstrated that including these berries in the diet improves cognitive function in aging animals and seems to boost the number of neurons in the memory center of the brain (British Journal of Nutrition, Nov. 28, 2015; Nutritional Neuroscience, June, 2009).  There have also been studies showing that berry consumption boosts cognitive test scores in older adults and in children (Rejuvenation Research, Feb., 2014; European Journal of Nutrition, online Oct. 5, 2015).

Orange Juice as a Source of Flavanones:

Another study showed that two months of daily high-flavanone orange juice beverages improved cognitive function in older adults compared to low-flavanone orange juice (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Mar., 2015). Unfortunately, we don’t know how to tell whether the orange juice you buy at the grocery store is rich or poor in flavanone compounds.

The Benefits of Cocoa Flavanols:

We have a similar problem when it comes to cocoa flavanols in beverages. There is research demonstrating that flavanol-rich cocoa improves blood flow to the brain (Psychopharmacology, Sep., 2015).  Studies also show that older people consuming high doses of cocoa flavanols perform better on cognitive tests (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Mar., 2015; Nutrition Reviews, Oct., 2013). But the cocoa or chocolate that we buy at the supermarket is not labeled with its flavanol content. One possible source of this information is, although the site requires visitors to pay to see the review. We discussed the cardiovascular benefits of both Concord grape juice and chocolate with cocoa flavanols in our book, Best Choices.

Watch Out for Sugar:

Of course, there are some disadvantages to boosting your brain function with chocolate bars or Concord grape juice. Both are high in sugar, and excess sugar is probably no better for the brain than it is for the waistline. But eating dark red, blue or purple berries or drinking polyphenol-rich beverages such as Concord grape juice, high-flavanone orange juice or high-flavanol cocoa regularly sounds like a delicious way to stay sharp.

Rate this article
4.5- 37 ratings
About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Get the latest health news right in your inbox

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

Screenshots of The People's Pharmacy website on mobile devices of various sizes
Join over 150,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

We're empowering you to make wise decisions about your own health, by providing you with essential health information about both medical and alternative treatment options.

Showing 11 comments
Add your comment

Any idea if it needs to be pure 100% concord grape juice? Even Welchs best is a mix. The pure stuff sold in health food stores is out of my budget .
Im adding the 12 oz of concord juice but im wondering if spacing it out thru the day will still work as im diabetic and gotta watch the carbs.

I am a great believer in vitamin supplements. I do not think modern foods have all the vitamins and minerals nature intended. I have taken supplements all my life and I am now 67 with no major health problems. I would recommend them to anyone.

How much grape juice do you need to drink daily? 1 glass or more? Grape juice has sugars that I don’t want.

Reading this article made me think: the FDA requires warnings on drug labels when appropriate. Maybe they should also add recommendations, such as therapeutic uses and ingredients.


One way to sweeten cocoa is to add Concord grape juice!

Here’s a starter recipe:
1 C water
1/2 C Concord grape juice
Heat in microwave for a minute or so and stir in
1/8 C un-Dutched cocoa powder — we use Nestle Toll House

Delicious! Adjust to proportions to your taste

Cocoa powder has no sugar. Sweeten it with artificial sweetener or stevia, and you will eliminate one problem.

Pomegranate juice?

Cocoa was discussed in this article and I would like to suggest “cocoa nibs”. A friend of mine suggested it to me as she takes it to lower cholesterol as well. I get it at my favorite nutrition store. It is pricey but you only need a couple teaspoonfuls a day, and I wouldn’t trust cheap versions of it. I put it on cereal in the morning, or I just like chewing on it by itself. Cocoa nibs are cocoa beans that have been shelled and roasted, then chopped into little pieces. It looks like little pieces of chocolate, and the taste is bitter but yet really good, and it feels cool in your mouth. It is crunchy but very easy to chew and has that wonderful chocolate flavor that we all love. And, no sugar or anything else added. It is pure cocoa beans. You can grind it into powder and make a drink, or use it in cooking as well.

I just put 2tsp cocoa nibs in any smoothie I make.

I am a cheat. I am 74 and was routinely tested for diabetes. The test showed a value of 5.7, the lowest value on the scale. So I was put on metformin. After blood testing for weeks before starting it the drug showed to be very effective, lowering the value to below 100. I don’t eat very much but I do eat big big desserts late at night: four scoops of ice cream, half a Nutty bar, and a couple of chocolate bars with almonds or hazelnuts (aside from the sugar, all of this is healthy, right?).

My three month diabetes tests show a value below 5.7, though not by much. So I am getting away with those big desserts, aren’t I? It is curious that the morning values changed so much while the three month tests showed little difference. Of course I have to pay attention to dental health.

I asked to be put on metformin even before the diabetes test. Might help me live longer.

Your review for the cognitive merits of grape juice, etc. is confusing given the high level of sugar which ain’t good for the prediabetic or diabetic???

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^