Flavonoids as Brain Boosters

Forget the chickens and the eggs for now, let’s consider teas and berries for brain health.  This research confirms that foods high in flavonoids benefit brain health as we grow older.  By comparing the self-reported intakes of 6 different types of flavonoids in 2,800 people, they determined that those with higher intakes had 2 to 4 times less Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias over their lives.  So where do these come from and how much do you need?

Flavonoids are a type of phytonutrient, a natural substance from plants not considered a vitamin (a required substance) but found to benefit various body functions. You may recognize their names on various supplement bottles: quercetin, luteolin, rutin, etc.  You are ingesting them in a various of foods including pears, apples, tea, chocolate, berries, and some vegetables.  While not essential for metabolic processes like a vitamin, they enhance many processes through lowering inflammation and oxidative stress or improving insulin and cholesterol.  Each express their own set of benefits, but share similar chemical structures and mechanisms of actions.

With Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias increasing in prevalence as our population ages into the above 70 year old category, the need for prevention grows.  Conventional medicine still does not have great therapies to reverse dementia after the fact. At Sanctuary, we see significant improvements in our dementia patients but the earlier we can work with patients in the progression, the better hope for a return to near normal function.

In this study, researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University followed a group of 2,800 people who were over 50 at the start of the study for a 20 year span.  Such a long term study requires patience and a lot of work.  They published their findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this year. 

            They surveyed the 2,800 people for food frequency of 5 different sources of flavonoids.  After accounting for other potential factors like education, smoking status, weight, and other dietaty factors, they looked at those in the lowest 15% of flavonoid intake versus those in the highest 40% of intake.  Those in the lower intake category exhibited from 2 to 4 times greater incidences of Alzheimer’s or other dementias versus the higher group.  The lower group reported no berries eaten per month, no tea per month, and only 1 and ½ apples per month.  In contrast, the higher intake group ate 7 ½ cups of blueberries or strawberries, drank 19 cups of tea, and ate about 8 apples or pears per month.

            This should encourage even those in their 50’s that it is not too late to begin lifestyle changes.  The buildup to dementia occurs over decades, increasing over the age of 70.  While starting sooner is always better, don’t let your age discourage you from squeezing every drop of benefit from adding berries or tea to your diet.  Even some good dark chocolate can count toward flavonoids and disease prevention.

            As a functional MD looking for every avenue available in helping my patients, this provides some good evidence in convincing them to change their dietary habits.  Winning the battle over dementia requires a multimodal approach.  Supplements help many of our patients restore a healthier more abundant life after illness has appeared, but vitamins cannot fully overcome an unhealthy or inflammatory diet.  Filling your plates and bowls with flavonoids enables whatever vitamins or other supplements you take to go much further. 


Original Study:

Paul F Jacques, Rhoda Au, Jeffrey B Blumberg, Gail T Rogers, Esra Shishtar. Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and risk of Alzheimer disease and related dementias in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqaa079

Thanks to Science Daily:

Tufts University, Health Sciences Campus. “More berries, apples and tea may have protective benefits against Alzheimer’s: Study shows low intake of flavonoid-rich foods linked with higher Alzheimer’s risk over 20 years.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 May 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200505121701.h

Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.

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