CHANGES in the brain can start decades before a person begins to experience cognitive decline and dementia.
There is currently no cure for dementia, so strategies to prevent the condition through lifestyle changes are essential.
A large study has found a link between eating foods rich in antioxidants called flavonoids and a significantly reduced risk of experiencing early signs of cognitive decline.
Fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and peppers, owe their bright colors to plant chemicals known as flavonoids.
These phytochemicals have powerful antioxidant properties, which has raised hopes that they could reduce oxidative stress in the brain.
Oxidative stress is a strong candidate for causing age-related cognitive decline and eventually dementia, which affects a person’s memory, thinking, and reasoning abilities.
In 2014, around 5 millionTrusted Source adults aged 65 years and older had dementia in the United States alone. According to projections, this number will increase to nearly 14 million by 2060.
While there are treatments for temporarily alleviating the symptoms of dementia, there is currently no cure available.
The search is therefore on to identify lifestyle factors, such as diet, that can reduce individuals’ risk of developing the condition.
Previous research into possible links between eating foods rich in flavonoids and reduced risk of cognitive decline later in life has been inconclusive, however.
A new study that followed almost 80,000 middle-aged individuals for more than 20 years has now found that those who consumed the most flavonoids were less likely to experience early signs of cognitive decline in later life.
Even after adjustment for other risk factors, such as physical exercise, those who ate the most flavonoids in their diet were 20% less likely to develop subjective cognitive decline compared with those who ate the least.
“There is mounting evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to preventing your thinking skills from declining as you get older,” says senior author Dr. Walter Willett, Ph.D., of Harvard University in Boston, MA.
“Our results are exciting because they show that making simple changes to your diet could help prevent cognitive decline,” he adds.
Flavones, a type of flavonoid present in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, were associated with a 38% reduction in risk.