Aging Brain: Eat More Berries!
Flavanols colour fruit and vegetables. The substances could be particularly important for the memory of older people.
The human brain loses efficiency with increasing age – some more, others less quickly. Since we cannot fundamentally influence the genetic factors, lifestyle becomes the most important lever to keep the mind fit for as long as possible. One aspect of this is diet.
Do older brains need special nutrients?
“The aging brain may need specific nutrients for optimal health,” suggests Columbia University neuropsychologist Professor Adam Brickman. According to the researcher, this can be compared to the now well-documented need for certain nutrients for the healthy brain development of children.
Studies have already focused on certain active ingredients that could counteract aging processes in the brain: flavanols. They only occur in plants and colour them red, blue, yellow or violet. Above all, however, they have health-promoting effects that are only partially understood to date.
Flavanols promote nerve growth
Among other things, previous experiments with mice showed that flavanols – in particular a bioactive substance called epicatechin – promoted the growth of neurons and blood vessels in the so-called hippocampus, thereby improving the animals’ memory. This is a part of the brain that is responsible for storing new memories.
Brickman’s team has now examined the effect of flavanols with the help of more than 3,500 over 60-year-olds. They first filled out an extensive questionnaire about their diet and completed a memory test. Some of them then received a daily dose of 500 mg of flavanols, including 80 mg of epicatechin. The rest received a placebo.
Urine flavanol check
More than a third of the participants also provided urine samples, which the researchers could use to objectively determine the flavanol content in the diet and supplements. To do this, they used a specific biomarker that they had found in advance.
Such an approach is a special feature and significantly enhances the significance of the study: many studies on nutrition are based exclusively on the information provided by the participants, which can be correspondingly biased.
Improved memory performance
After a year, the researchers tested the memory performance of their test subjects again: participants who had stated that they had a poor diet and whose flavanol levels were initially low improved their memory values by an average of 10.5 when taking flavanol compared to the placebo group Percent.
What’s more, they also performed better in comparison to their memory performance at the start of the study. Their values increased by an average of 16 percent. Annual cognitive tests also showed that the improvement seen after one year persisted for at least two more years.
If you eat healthily, you don’t need any dietary supplements
However, people who were already well supplied with flavanols through their diet did not improve their memory performance even with the supplements. This means that if you eat healthily, you do not need any dietary supplements.
The results strongly suggested that flavanol deficiency may contribute to age-related memory loss, the authors write. However, for ethical reasons, no cross-check can be made. This would consist of depriving people with good baseline levels of flavoanols of them for a long period of time.
Aging hippocampus weakens memory
Previous studies by Brickman’s group had shown a connection between age-related memory loss and changes in a special area in the hippocampus, the so-called dentate gyrus. Flavanols appear to improve function in this very brain region.
Colourful fruits, vegetables and cocoa provide flavanols
Flavanols are found in colourful vegetables and fruits in particular: berries, apple peels, red and yellow peppers. The flavanol epicatechin is mainly found in cocoa, grapes and tea.
In the UAE
Here in the UAE, we are blessed with an abundance of berries all year round and this even includes an increasing number grown locally. Moreover, the supermarket shelves are a rainbow of fresh fruit and veg, whilst tea is available everywhere across the country, so there can be no excuses, let’s get those flavanols pumping!