A diet rich in the antioxidants that leafy, green vegetables and colorful fruit deliver is good for your body, and now new research shows it also protects your brain.
In the study, people whose blood contained the highest amounts of three key antioxidants were less likely to develop all-cause dementia than those whose blood had lower levels of these nutrients.
“The takeaway is that a healthy diet rich in antioxidants from dark leafy greens and orange-pigmented fruits with or without antioxidant supplements may reduce the risk of developing dementia,” says Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director for the U.S. National Institute on Aging (NIA), which funded the study.
“But the only way to prove the connection between antioxidants and brain health is with a long-term, randomized clinical trial to see whether fewer people who take a carefully controlled amount of antioxidant supplements develop dementia over time,” Ferrucci adds.
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How antioxidants protect brain health
For this new research, study author May Beydoun of the NIA, in Baltimore, and colleagues studied nearly 7,300 people, aged 45 to 90, who had a physical exam, an interview and a blood test for antioxidant levels.
The individuals were divided into three groups, depending on the level of antioxidants in their blood, and followed for an average of 16 years and as many as 26 years.
The researchers found that those who had the highest amount of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin in their blood were less likely to develop dementia than those who had lower levels. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy foods like kale, spinach, broccoli and peas.
Every increase in standard deviation (a measure of how dispersed the data is in relation to the average) of those antioxidant levels in the study was associated with a 7% decrease in dementia.
For those who had high levels of another antioxidant called beta-cryptoxanthin, every standard deviation increase was associated with a 14% reduced risk of dementia. Beta-cryptoxanthin is found in orange-pigmented fruits, including oranges, papaya, tangerines and persimmons.
“Experts believe that consuming antioxidants may help protect cells of the body — including brain cells — from damage,” Ferrucci says.
The impact of antioxidants on dementia risk was reduced somewhat when