Flavanols Aid Memory, Says Study

We are always looking for ways to improve our health through natural means. And we’re always looking for more reasons to eat a healthy and varied diet. Finding many reasons to eat a varied diet strengthens our resolve to get more variety into our meals and avoid prepackaged food. A new study shows some foods can help us meet both our goals.

According to a new study, flavanols, antioxidants found in tea and many fruits and vegetables and slow memory decline. People who ate the most flavanols in the study saw their cognitive scores decline 0.4 units per decade more slowly than those who ate the fewest. That was true even after adjusting for age, sex, smoking and other factors that influence memory.

It’s exciting that our study shows making specific diet choices may lead to a slower rate of cognitive decline,” said study author Dr. Thomas Holland of Rush Univ. Medical Center. “Something as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more tea is an easy way for people to take an active role in maintaining their brain health.”

The study used 961 people with an average age of 81 without dementia to fill out diet questionnaires every year for seven years. They also took cognitive and memory tests and were asked about their physical and mental activities. People who ate diets rich in flavanols maintained their cognition and memories the most.

Then the researchers when further and broke it down by types of flavanols. People who ate high amounts of flavanols from onions, asparagus, berries and leafy greens faired the best. People who ate a diet rich in flavanols from tea, nuts, vegetables, strawberries, grapes, honey and spinach came in second place. People who got their flavanols from pears, olive oil, wine and tomato cause saw no benefits for memory. However, that flavanol has been linked to heart health benefits in the past.

Researchers point out that, as it’s an observational study, it cannot prove cause and effect. People who eat high amounts of one food may have other behaviors in common that are impacting their health outcomes that the researchers didn’t account for. And they stress that extracts of the flavanols are not the same as eating the whole food, so you cannot necessarily expect the results from a supplement.

Additionally, survey-based studies have the inherent limitation that people don’t perfectly recall what they ate. However, with more than 900 people, the information does tend to become more trustworthy. Even if everyone is slightly incorrect, the patterns should be visible and largely accurate.

A separate study with more than 18,000 people found that a diet high in fried foods can lower cognition and memory scores. Other studies have found that Sugar, carbs, alcohol and nitrates can harm memory. That’s why it’s so important to focus on overall diet and not just one aspect. Adding more flavanol-rich foods may not help if you don’t also limit unhealthy things already in your diet. By eating more leafy greens, onions, berries and asparagus and eating fewer unhealthy foods, you may remember reading about this study for decades to come.  

Banner image: Svetla Borovska via Unsplash

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