Specific Flavonoids and Brain Health: a First!

flavonoids and brain health
flavonoids and brain health

Whenever I’m grocery shopping, I faithfully study the labels of packaged or canned items for the phrases “Red 40,” “Yellow 5,” or “Yellow 6.”

Finding one is my cue to return the product to its shelf because scientific research consistently underscores the link between food dyes and cancer. So why, after years of warnings that toxic food dyes toxins may cause cancer or other serious diseases, would I choose artificial coloring over fresh produce offering the healthiest natural colors in the world?

Plant pigments are known as flavonoids. Today, I’m looking at research on flavonoids and brain health.

Flavonoids rank among the most beneficial nutrients we can feed our brains! My grocery shopping cart typically contains a rainbow of fruits and vegetables essential to my plant-based diet.

The maker of this popular candy continues coloring it with artificial dyes.

For example, the July 28, 2021 journal Neurology published a large-scale study strongly linking flavonoids and brain health. It found evidence that consuming them frequently can reduce the risk of age-related forgetfulness.

The meta-analysis came from a team headed by Dr. Tian- Shin Yeh, M.D, Ph.D., of Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The researchers gathered data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which followed 49,493 women between 1984 and 2006, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, following 27,842 men between 1986 and 2002.

Because health professionals tend to be more knowledgeable and precise when answering questionnaires, researchers favor data from prospective studies involving them.

The Details of Harvard’s Flavonoids and Brain Health Research

At the start of each study, the health professionals’ average age was 48 for women and 51 for men. And throughout the research, all participants periodically answered “Yes” or “No” to questions in seven memory-related areas: 

    • Do you have trouble remembering recent events? 
    • Do you struggle to remember things from second to second? 
    • Do you have trouble remembering short lists of items? 
    • Do you have trouble following spoken instructions? 
    • Do you have trouble following a group conversation? 
    • Do you have trouble finding your way around familiar streets? 
    • Haven your ability to remember things changed recently?

They also supplied their dietary information.

Based on the information gained from their questionnaires, the researchers calculated participants’ flavonoid consumption.         

The top 20 percent averaged around 600 mg (½ serving) per day, compared to only about 150 mg per day for the bottom 20 percent. Co-researcher Walter Willett, M.D., Ph.D., noted:

“The people in our study who did the best… [averaged] at least half a serving per day of foods [such as] orange juice, oranges, peppers, celery, grapefruits, grapefruit juice, apples and pears.” 

Specific Flavonoids and Brain Health Impacts

When considering specific flavonoids’ impacts, the Harvard team found yellow and orange flavones apigenin and luteolin produced the best brain-protection benefits.  

They correlated regular flavone consumption to a 38-percent lower risk of cognitive impairment. That equates to a three- to a four-year reduction in age! Oranges, peppers, celery, and red wine were major flavone sources.

To get the full health benefits of flavone-rich oranges, eat them whole instead of juicing them.

And how did anthocyanins, the flavonoids responsible for the brain-empowering benefits of blueberries, measure up?

The Harvard meta-analysis concluded that regularly eating plant-based foods with these purple, blue, red, or black pigments decreased cognitive decline risk by 24 percent.

Just as significantly, the researchers claim that linking flavonoids and brain health dose-dependent impact to specific plant pigments is unprecedented!

“To our knowledge, the current study is the first to present dose-response relationships for various flavonoid subclasses.”

For me, the fact that research supporting the critical connection between flavonoids and brain health continues to be published is very encouraging.

The reality is that the most naturally colorful foods are the most appetizing ones and precisely what our bodies need. Do you know of a better reason to pass up artificially dyed, processed foods in favor of the vibrantly colored whole ones that will truly nourish your brain?

I certainly don’t!

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