Secret substance reduces dementia risk

Worried about developing Alzheimer’s disease?

Well, boil a kettle and pop a tea bag into a cup. Or better yet, pour yourself a glass of red. Even if you’re not partial to a tipple or a tea, you may still stave off Alzheimer’s or other dementia by snacking on a cup of berries.

The old ‘an apple a day’ adage can also be applied to keeping Alzheimer’s away, says a new study published online recently in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

According to the study, people with the lowest amounts of fruits, red wine and tea in their diet were two to four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

“Diet matters. And the good news is you don’t have to make dramatic changes. Modest changes like going from not eating any berries to eating a cup or two a week can make a difference,” said senior author Paul Jacques, director of nutritional epidemiology at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Centre on Ageing at Tufts University in Boston.

So, what is providing these benefits to brain health? Researchers put it down to flavonoids, which are natural substances found in plant foods.

Flavonoids are known to reduce inflammation –  which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Dr Jacques notes that the study may not prove a definitive link between fruits and teas and wine in the diet and dementia, as it is possible that those who eat more fruits or drink more tea or wine may have other healthy habits that affect their dementia risk.

When the study began in 1970, it comprised 2800 people aged 50 or older, with an average age of 59. Around half were women, and most were white and of European descent.

The researchers sorted over 20 years’ worth of participants’ dietary information into four categories of flavonoids intake and compared those with the lowest intake to those with the highest intake.

Those on the low end ate no berries, about 1.5 apples and no tea during the month. Those on the highest end ate about 7.5 cups of blueberries or strawberries, eight apples or pears and drank about 19 cups of tea (green or black) a month.

Those who consumed the lowest amounts of apples, pears and tea had a two times higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia or dementia.

Those who consumed the lowest levels of blueberries, strawberries and red wine had a fourfold risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other dementias.

Many other factors such as genetics and environment may cause Alzheimer’s disease, says Dr Jacques, but previous research has strongly suggested that diet is a leading factor. This study adds to that evidence.

“This study also seems to tell us that the risk of dementia varies with people’s dietary intake,” he said.

Heather Snyder from the Alzheimer’s Association agreed.

“Alzheimer’s disease is complex. Brains are complex. Looking across the life course, genetics, nutrition, education and other factors are all part of a puzzle. This study is another piece in that puzzle,” she said.

Regardless of any vagaries, both experts agree that it’s better to have a healthy diet throughout your life and that brain-health benefits are likely with a healthier diet no matter what your age.

Where on the scale would you be? Are you eating enough berries and fruits, and drinking enough tea and red wine?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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