You’re probably familiar with the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Typically, we say this to our kids and grandkids to teach them to eat more fruit and have a healthier diet. But there actually is some literal truth to that saying for a whole other age group - adults 65 years old and beyond. Recently, scientific evidence appeared suggesting that a type of antioxidant present in berries, tea, and apples, among other plant-based foods and drinks, may be not simply beneficial, but necessary to prevent cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. These antioxidants are called flavonoids, and not consuming enough of them may actually increase one's risk of said diseases.
The Research Behind the Link Between Flavonoids and Dementia
Scientists have known for a while that an antioxidant-rich diet can help maintain an active and healthy brain for longer, as they've observed that people with an antioxidant-rich diet like the Mediterranean diet had a much longer lifespan and yet a lower incidence of cognitive decline and dementia. Antioxidants are nutrients that help prevent cell damage by combining with free radicals. In a previous article titled 10 Foods to Decrease the Risk of Alzheimer's, we also mentioned the positive effect of antioxidants on long-term brain health and a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's.
More recent accounts have further zoomed in on the specific types of antioxidants that may play the largest role in neurodegenerative diseases. What a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found was that a type of antioxidants called flavonoids are not just beneficial for Alzheimer's and dementia prevention, they are necessary for our brain!
The research looked at almost 3.000 participants over the course of 20 years, carefully assessing their diets for 6 different types of flavonoids and excluding any potential confounding factors. “Our study gives us a picture of how diet over time might be related to a person’s cognitive decline, as we were able to look at flavonoid intake over many years prior to participants’ dementia diagnoses,” explains one of the authors of the study Dr. Paul Jacques in an interview.
The results of the investigation revealed that people who didn't eat many berries and other anthocyanin-rich foods (black plums, red cabbage, red radish, etc.) had a 4 times higher risk of developing dementia. Anthocyanins were found to be the most active flavonoid group in the study, but a lower intake of other flavonoid-rich foods, such as apples, tea, and pears, also increased the risk of the disease twofold. Thus, not including foods and drinks high in flavonoids in one's diet really raised the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's in the long term.
Which Foods Contain a Lot of Flavonoids and How Much Do You Need?
The study defined a low intake of flavonoids as eating no berries, about 1 apple, and no tea in an entire 1 month, and a high or sufficient intake included about 8 apples or pears, 7.5 cups of berries, and 19 cups of tea in a month. Thus, in order to consume enough flavonoids, you don't have to drink tea every day or eat an excessive amount of fruit a day, which is great news as it makes a healthy brain an achievable goal for most people.
In the image above, we've also included other common foods that are high in flavonoid content. Keep in mind that berries of any kind, be it raspberries, blackcurrant, or cranberries, have been found to have the most beneficial effect on brain health, so try to include some in your diet several times a week.
While a high intake of flavonoid-rich foods isn't capable of completely eliminating your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, it can certainly increase your chances of healthy cognition, the study finds. In the absence of a cure for this increasingly-widespread disease, prevention through a healthy diet and lifestyle is your greatest weapon against the disease.