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New study finds antioxidants affect dementia risk

ramekins filled with high anti-oxidant foods

Antioxidants has become a health buzzword in recent decades, lauded for their health-giving properties. Now a study says antioxidants offer further benefits.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers in the US, has found an association between the levels of specific antioxidants in the blood and a reduced dementia risk.

The scientists looked at population data gathered from a health survey and examined the relationship between specific antioxidants found in the participants’ blood at the time of the survey, and how this affected the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as other types of dementia in later life.

Read: Top foods that protect your brain

The study looked at 7283 individuals aged 45 to 90 and, more specifically, at a smaller group of individuals (3618) aged over 65. It found that levels of carotenoid antioxidants in participants’ blood, including lutein and zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin, were associated with a reduced risk of dementia in the follow-up years.

Those three sub-types of antioxidants are found in a range of fruit and vegetables. Lutein can be found green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and corn, while zeaxanthins (which have been found to help prevent the onset and progression of eye diseases) are found in green, leafy vegetables. Cyptoxanthins are found in red capsicum, pumpkin and mangoes.

Read: Nine beverages that will give your brain a boost

In the over-65 age group, those who had higher levels of carotenoid antioxidants showed a clearer risk reduction for all types of dementia, and this remained even when lifestyle and socio-economic factors were accounted for.

This is very promising news for dementia prevention but it does come with a couple of caveats. First, the study looked only at antioxidant levels at one point in time, not over a period.

The study’s lead author, Dr May Beydoun, said: “To reach a conclusion for certain, this finding needs to be tested in an RCT [random controlled trial]. In these RCTs, participants would be randomised to either a treatment (i.e. carotenoid supplementation) or a control group and compared in terms of incidence rates of dementia and/or changes in markers of dementia over time.”

Read: Low folate levels linked to dementia

Second, evidence suggests that antioxidant supplements do not work as well as the naturally occurring antioxidants in foods such as fruits and vegetables. If you are looking to take a shortcut to lower your risk by taking antioxidant supplements, your efforts may be in vain. Pumpkins, mangoes and green leafy vegetables are your best bet.

Antioxidants already have a list of proven health benefits, and helping to reduce the risk of dementia may soon be added to that list. So load up on fruit and vegetables, and perhaps sneak in the occasional glass of red and a few squares of chocolate as well!

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