Published: July 17, 2020 at 12:13 p.m. ET
By Brett Arends
Multi-decade study provides the good news
At last, some good news on the health front.
Dark chocolate — mmmm! — and tea, berries, apples and even red wine should all be on your next shopping list, on doctor’s orders, too.
That’s because they’re all going to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s, or some other type of dementia, when you’re older.
Add parsley, celery, onions, and possibly soy products, to the list too.
This is the wonderful news from one of the longest-running studies yet into diet and dementia. Medical researchers at Boston-based Tufts and Boston Universities studied the diets and health outcomes of 2,800 people who have been taking part in a major multidecade health research project.
Researchers followed members of the so-called Framingham Offspring Cohort study, which kicked off in 1970 among residents of Framingham, Mass. It was a follow-on study from one that began in 1948, and which was originally designed to study heart health. Study participants were interviewed, and underwent medical tests, every four years.
Bottom line: Those with the highest intake of so-called flavonoid foods were the least likely to end up with dementia. Flavonoids are “naturally occurring bioactive pigments found widely in plant-based foods,” they say.
“Our findings imply that higher long-term dietary intakes of flavonoids are associated with lower risks of ADRD [Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias],” they conclude.
So: Red wine and chocolate! Doctor’s orders.
The study adds confidence to some promising earlier studies, which suggested that eating flavonoid-rich foods such as cocoa, blueberries and orange juice may help brain health, and may be good for our memory, attention and reasoning.
It’s still not entirely clear why, but scientists are starting to get some ideas. Early lab studies suggested flavonoids helped protect the brain through their antioxidant characteristics, the researchers say. But more recent studies support a view that flavonoids protect neurons from toxins and by combating inflammation.
Dementia is a crippling disease that ends up destroying the brain of the sufferer. It is also devastating for patients’ friends and family, and the agony can be drawn out over many years. It is also ruinously expensive, for families and the country, because sufferers may end up needing round-the-clock medical care for many years.
And it’s getting worse as the population ages. Today some 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, the researchers say. By 2050 that’s projected to reach 14 million.
All of that may help put the current COVID-19 crisis into some perspective.
But as long as we can eat things like blueberries and dark chocolate on medical advice, maybe things aren’t all bad.