Eating more flavonols may slow cognitive decline: study

Story at a glance

  • Flavonols are a type of flavonoid and can be found in certain fruits, vegetables, wine and teas.

  • They are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • The study included data from more than 900 individuals with an average age of 81.

Individuals who incorporate more antioxidant flavonols into their diet may have a slower rate of memory decline, regardless of age, sex and smoking status.

That’s according to new research on the type of flavonoid, which can be found in several fruits, vegetables, teas and wine. Flavonoids are a group of substances found in plant pigments known for their beneficial health effects.

Researchers hypothesize the protective effect is likely due to flavonals’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which could prevent cell damage.

“It’s exciting that our study shows making specific diet choices may lead to a slower rate of cognitive decline,” said author Thomas M. Holland, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, in a statement.

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“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,” he added.

Results were published in the journal Neurology.

Findings were based on data from 961 participants living in Chicago. The participants were followed for an average of seven years and completed annual cognitive performance tests along with diet questionnaires.

Average participant age was 81, and no individuals had dementia at the start of the study.

On average, U.S. adults consume between 16 and 20 mg of flavonols per day. Study participants consumed around 10 mg per day, with the lowest group consuming 5 mg and the highest consuming 15 mg, or the equivalent of about a cup of leafy greens.

Each individual also received a cognition score based on test results. The score of those who ate the most flavonols declined 0.4 units per decade more slowly than those who consumed the least flavonols.

Findings were also divided by flavonol class. Kale, beans, tea, spinach and broccoli contributed the most to kaempferol levels; tomatoes, kale, apples and tea for quercetin; tea, wine, kale, oranges and tomatoes contributed the most for myricetin; and pears, olive oil, wine and tomato sauce for isorhamnetin.

Those who consumed the highest amounts of foods with kaempferol exhibited the slowest rate of cognitive decline compared with those who ate the fewest foods with this flavonol. Kaempferol was followed by myricetin and quercetin with regard to greatest impact on cognitive decline, while isorhamnetin had no effect.

Quercetin has been associated with reducing the onset of colorectal cancer, while kaempferol has been found to inhibit cancer cell growth.

Despite the findings, the study results do not prove flavonol intake causes a slower rate of cognitive decline, authors cautioned.

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