A new study shows that people who eat a diet that includes at least half a serving per day of foods high in flavonoids — like oranges, strawberries, peppers and apples — may have a 20% lower risk of cognitive decline. The research is published in the July 28, 2021, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
The study looked at several types of flavonoids, and found that flavones and anthocyanins may have the most protective effect. Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in plants and are considered powerful antioxidants.
It is thought that having too few antioxidants may play a role in cognitive decline as you age. “There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older,” said study author Walter Willett of Harvard University. “Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.”
The study looked at 49,493 women with an average age of 48 and 27,842 men with an average age of 51 at the start of the study. Over 20 years of follow up, people completed several questionnaires about how often they ate various foods.
Study participants evaluated their own cognitive abilities twice during the study, using questions like, “Do you have more trouble than usual remembering recent events?” and “Do you have more trouble than usual remembering a short list of items?”
After adjusting for factors like age and total caloric intake, people who consumed more flavonoids in their diets reported lower risk of cognitive decline. The group of highest flavonoid consumers had 20% less risk of self-reported cognitive decline than the people in the lowest group.
Researchers also looked at individual flavonoids. Flavones, found in some spices and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, had the strongest protective qualities. They were associated with a 38% reduction in risk of cognitive decline, which is the equivalent of being three to four years younger in age.
“The people in our study who did the best over time ate an average of at least half a serving per day of foods like orange juice, oranges, peppers, celery, grapefruits, grapefruit juice, apples and pears,” Willett said.
A limitation of the study is that participants reported on their diets and may not recall perfectly what they ate or how much. The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Source: American Academy of Neurology
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