Dementia warning – low intake of these three foods could increase your risk of condition

Dementia, in particular Alzheimer’s disease – one the main types of dementia, could be prevented by eating plenty of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea. According to a new study led by scientists at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University, older adults who consumed small amounts of flavonoid-rich foods, such as berries, apples and tea, were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias over 20 years compared with people who intake was higher.


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The study involved 2,800 participants aged 50 and older and examined the relationship between eating foods containing flavonoids and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD).

While previous studies have looked at associations between nutrition and dementias over short periods of time, the study published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at exposure over 20 years.

Flavonoids are various compounds found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, but they’re also found in plant products like tea, wine and dark chocolate.

Flavonoids have been linked to various health benefits, including reduced inflammation.

Researchers working on the study found a low intake of three flavonoid types was linked to higher risk of dementia when compared to the highest intake. Specifically:

  • Low intake of flavonols (apples, pears and tea) was associated with twice the risk of developing ADRD.
  • Low intake of anthocyanins (blueberries, strawberries, and red wine) was associated with a four-fold risk of developing ADRD.
  • Low intake of flavonoid polymers (apples, pears, and tea) was associated with twice the risk of developing ADRD.

Paul Jacques, senior author and nutritional epidemiologist at the USDA HNRCA, said: “Our study gives us a picture of how diet over time might be related to a person’s cognitive decline, as we were able to look at flavonoid intake over many years prior to participants’ dementia diagnoses.

“With no effective drugs currently available for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, preventing disease through a healthy diet is an important consideration.”

The researchers analysed six types of flavonoids and compared long-term intake levels with the number of AD and ADRD diagnoses later in life.

They found low intake of three flavonoid types was linked to higher risk of dementia when compared to the highest intake.

First author Esra Shishtar, who at the time of the study was a doctoral student at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in the Nutritional Epidemiology Program at the USDA HNRCA, said: “Tea, specifically green tea, and berries are good sources of flavonoids


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“When we look at the study results, we see that the people who may benefit the most from consuming more flavonoids are people at the lowest levels of intake, and it doesn’t take much to improve levels.

“A cup of tea a day or some berries two or three times a week would be adequate”

Jaques also noted 50, the approximate age at which data was first analysed for participants, is not too late to make positive dietary changes.

He said: “The risk of dementia really starts to increase over age 70, and the take home message is, when you are approaching 50 or just beyond, you should start thinking about a healthier diet if you haven’t already.”

Alzheimer’s disease symptoms

Alongside prevention of dementia, recognising symptoms can ensure earlier diagnosis of the condition and the right treatment to help slow it down.

Typical early symptoms of Alzheimer’s are listed by Alzheimer’s Research UK as:

  • Regularly forgetting recent events, names and faces.
  • Becoming increasingly repetitive, e.g. repeating questions after a very short interval.
  • Regularly misplacing items or putting them in odd places.
  • Uncertainty about the date or time of day.
  • People may be unsure of their whereabouts or get lost, particularly in unfamiliar places.
  • Problems finding the right words.
  • Some people become low in mood, anxious or irritable. Others may lose self-confidence or show less interest in what’s happening around them.

If you or a family member experiences these symptoms, contact a GP.

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