The fruits and vegetables that may reduce risk of cognitive decline – major new finding

Dr Hilary issues warning about missed dementia diagnoses

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Oxidative stress is one of the main causes of age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Early signs of the degenerative disease include trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating or making decisions that affect everyday life. Changes in the brain can start decades before a person begins to experience signs of cognitive decline. However, researchers have found eating foods rich in antioxidants called flavonoids can significantly reduce the risk of the illness.

Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites thought to provide health benefits through cells signalling pathways and antioxidant effects.

Aside from antioxidant activity, these molecules are also anti-viral, anti-cancerous, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergy.

Almost all fruits, vegetables and herbs contain a certain amount of flavonoids.

Generally speaking, the more colourful the food item is, the richer it will be in flavonoids.

Doctor Walter Willett, of Harvard University, explained: “There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older.

“Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline.”

A new study, that followed almost 80,000 middle-aged individuals for more than 20 years, found that those who consumed a diet rich in flavonoids were less likely to experience early signs of cognitive decline.

The findings revealed that those who ate most flavonoids were 20 percent less likely to develop subjective cognitive decline compared with those who ate the least.

Researchers drew upon data from two longitudinal studies that monitored the lifestyle and health of men and women over several decades.

Data was available for 49,493 women who completed seven questionnaires about their diet over the period from 1984 and 2004, followed by cognitive decline surveys in 2012 and 2014.

Data from the Health Professionals Follow-up study provided information on 27,842 men who completed dietary questionnaires between 1986 and 2002.

Researchers took into account the participants’ intake of other nutrients, such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other non-dietary factors, including physical activity, body mass index, smoking and alcohol intake.

The findings showed that flavones, a type of flavonoid found in yellow and orange fruit and vegetables, were associated with a 38 percent reduction in risk of cognitive decline.

Researchers also found that anthocyanins, coloured water-soluble pigments found in blueberries, blackberries and cherries, were associated with a 24 percent reduction in risk.

Doctor Willett said: “While it is possible other phytochemicals are at work here, a colourful diet rich in flavonoids and specifically flavones and anthocyanincs – seems to be a good bet for promoting long-term brain health.

“And it’s never too late to start, because we saw those protective relationships whether people were consuming the flavonoids in their diet 20 years ago or if they starts incorporating them more recently.”

Doctor Tian-Shin Yeh, from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health in Boston, told Medical News Today: “Our results remained robust after we adjusted for all the major non-dietary and dietary risk factors for poor cognitive function and were consistent over the long-term follow-up period.

“The consumption of flavonoid-rich foods seems to be the best choice, in part because components other than flavonoids in these foods may be providing some of the benefits. We also have extensive long-term evidence on the safety and additional benefits of these foods.”

Researchers noted that while foods rich in flavonoids can prevent signs of cognitive decline, other lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, are equally important in the prevention of dementing illnesses.

Doctor Karen Harrison Dening, head of research and publication at Dementia UK, also noted that a Mediterranean diet – which has low amounts of meat and dairy products, in addition to fish, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil – is also good for brain health.

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