- A recent study found that elderly individuals who frequently consume a variety of antioxidants known as flavonols, found in certain fruits and vegetables, may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
- Animal studies suggest that flavonols have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and could eliminate abnormal protein deposits in the brain and boost memory and learning abilities.
- A plant-based eating pattern, such as the MIND diet (a mix of the Mediterranean and DASH diets), might be linked to a decreased risk of memory decline and Alzheimer’s in older adults.
- The risk of Alzheimer’s was found to be 48% lower for individuals with the highest intake of flavonols compared to those with the lowest intake.
- While the intake of flavonols is important, overall lifestyle factors including a healthy diet, regular exercise, staying socially active, and engaging in mentally challenging activities have been linked to a decreased risk of developing dementia.
Elderly individuals who frequently consume a variety of antioxidants known as flavonols may have a lower chance of contracting Alzheimer’s disease, as a recent study posits.
Flavonols: An Overview
These antioxidants are present in a wide range of vegetables and fruits, with the most abundant sources including leafy greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli, apples, and tea. A cohort of over 900 older adults were followed for a six-year period, and it was seen that those in the highest fifth percentile of flavonol intake were 48% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s when compared to the lowest fifth percentile of intake.
Exploring the Benefits: Implications of the Study
Although these findings do not definitively label antioxidants as the remedy to dementia, they indicate that a balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables may protect the ageing brain. While there is ample research illustrating a possible link between healthy eating habits and a decrease in mental decline, this most recent research may hint at a potential reason for these results, according to the study’s lead researcher, Dr. Thomas Holland.
“We’ve always known that fruits and vegetables are good for our health. This study allowed us to delve deeper into the ‘why’“, Holland, who is based at Rush University in Chicago stated. Flavonols are known for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, with animal studies pointing towards certain cognitive benefits. It was found in lab mice which were engineered to replicate Alzheimer’s, that flavonols may help eliminate abnormal protein deposits in the brain, and boost memory and learning abilities.
The Promise of Plant-Based Diet Patterns
Past studies by the Rush team showed that a diet pattern they labelled the “MIND diet” appears to have a connection with a decreased risk of memory decline and Alzheimer’s in elderly adults. This refers to a mixture of the traditional Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which is known to reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. The main components of the MIND diet are an abundance of fruits and vegetables, grains high in fibre, nuts, beans, olive oil, fish and poultry. Foods to avoid include highly processed foods, sweets, butter, and red meat.
Towards New Discoveries
The latest findings give additional backing to this type of eating pattern. For their study, published online earlier this year in the Neurology journal, the researchers tracked 921 elderly adults as part of an ongoing project focusing on memory and ageing. Beginning when the participants were 81 years old on average, information was gathered on their diet, medical history, and other lifestyle habits. Annually, they were examined neurologically to identify potential signs of dementia.
Unfolding the Impact of Flavonols on Alzheimer’s
Within the six-year period, 220 study participants were diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s. It appeared that the risk of Alzheimer’s was 48% lower for the fifth percentile with the highest intake of flavonols compared to the extreme with the lowest intake. The main sources of flavonols were spinach, kale, broccoli, apples, pears, beans, tomatoes, tea, olive oil and wine. The fifth percentile with the highest daily consumption took in an average of 15 milligrams (mg) – a threefold increase from those with the lowest consumption.
According to Holland, maintaining a vegetarian diet isn’t necessary to reach the 15-mg mark each day: A half-cup of cooked leafy greens (or one cup of raw), a half-cup of berries, and a half-cup of other cooked vegetables would suffice. Other differences were noted between elderly adults who consumed significant amounts of vegetables and those who did not. In the study, participants with a high flavonol intake were more educated and more likely to exercise.
No one is suggesting individuals should focus solely on flavonols. “This disease is complex and can’t be prevented by any one thing alone”, says Dr. Steven DeKosky, deputy director of the McKnight Brain Institute. Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that flavonol supplements can mitigate the risk of Alzheimer’s, DeKosky added.
Lifestyle and Brain Health
However, “we do believe there are steps you can take to decrease your risk”, DeKosky remarks. Various lifestyle factors have been linked to a decreased risk of developing dementia – including a healthy diet, regular exercise, staying socially active, and engaging in mentally challenging activities. Although some studies have made adjustments to isolate the effects of a single variable like flavonol intake, DeKosky clarifies that overall lifestyle is what truly matters. “It’s not just about one thing”, he states. “It’s more like a symphony”.
For more guidance on lifestyle and brain health, you can consult recommendations by the Alzheimer’s Association.