As researchers continue to discover new methods of diagnosing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, they also are searching for strategies people can follow to lower their dementia risk. A recently released study in this area found that raising intake of berries, apples and tea can lower risk of cognitive impairment.
The study focused on flavonoids, the naturally occurring chemical compounds in plants. There are a half dozen varieties of flavonoids, each broken down in the body in different ways. The study focused primarily on flavanols with antioxidant properties and anthocyanins that give red, purple and blue foods their rich color and anti-inflammatory properties, among other benefits.
Researchers at Tufts University conducted the study, publishing their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Using health information from a group of people over the age of 50, they reported that those with a low intake of flavonoid-rich berries, apples and tea were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
“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,” Paul Jacques, a senior author on the study, said in a press release.
He added: “With no effective drugs currently available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, preventing disease through a healthy diet is an important consideration.”
Why This Dementia Study Is Different?
The Tufts University study differed from others because it involved a group of 2,800 people who agreed to participate in the study for 20 years. The long duration of the study gave researchers a clearer picture of the health of aging adults, starting in their 50s.
All participants were free of Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia as the study began. To measure their intake of flavonoid-rich foods, researchers gave participants dietary questionnaires. This information was then updated through five medical exam cycles.
Those at the lowest flavonoid intake levels ate no berries and drank no tea per month, while eating about one-and-a-half apples. Those at the highest intake levels ate about seven and a half cups of blueberries or strawberries per month. They also consumed eight apples and 19 cups of tea.
It’s Not Too Late To Change Your Habits
As can be seen, even the highest levels of flavonoid consumption are easily attained. And researchers stressed that it is not too late for older adults to change dietary habits. In the press release, study author Esra Shishtar wrote that those who benefitted the most from flavonoids are those who started the study at the lowest intake levels.
“And it doesn’t take much to improve levels. A cup of tea a day or some berries two or three times a week would be adequate,” she said.
Jacques said the “take home message” from the study is that people should start adopting a healthier diet as they enter their 50s to lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia when they reach 70 and beyond.
The study findings build upon other, recent research in this area. For example, eating more fruits and vegetables has been linked to higher cognitive test scores. And eating a moderate amount of some types of nuts, such as walnuts and almonds, can slow cognitive decline.