If you’re worried about your brain health as you age, there may be a simple solution that could boost your memory skills. Research shows people who eat a diet high in a naturally occurring compound called flavonoids may have up to 20% lower risk of cognitive decline as they age, according to a new study in the journal Neurology.
“This [study] adds to evidence suggesting flavonoids are powerhouses when it comes to protecting cognitive function as you get older,” says study author Walter Willett, MD, professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. “This is exciting, because adding foods like these are a simple change anyone can make, and it may have a profound impact in the long term.”
About the Study
The study also examined the potential effect of individual flavonoids, Dr. Willett says. Flavones—the kind of flavonoid found in some spices as well as yellow or orange fruits and vegetables—seemed to have the most effect on risk reduction.
“You don’t need to be eating these foods for 20 years to get the benefits. Even if you start incorporating them now, you’ll have a protective advantage for brain health.”
Another type of flavonoid, known as anthocyanins, was also found to have a potent effect, with a 24% reduced risk of cognitive decline.
Foods high in this flavonoid group have dark colors like red, purple, and blue. Some examples include blackberries, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, and eggplant.
Eating foods high in flavonoids doesn’t just help preserve your memory and other cognitive functions. In fact, the strategy can have a ripple effect because it reduces inflammation throughout the body—which is one of the main reasons these foods give the brain a boost, says Daniel Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics, and co-author of “The Brain Warrior’s Way.”
Incorporating foods like these into your diet can offer a number of added benefits. For instance, they can help alleviate chronic pain, improve cardiovascular health, and support better gut health as well.
“What you eat plays a central role in how your brain functions, just as it does with every other part of your body,” Dr. Amen says. “Food can be healing or it can be toxic, depending on your choices.”
Stack Up Health-Promoting Habits
In addition to adding more antioxidant-rich foods into your diet, taking steps toward other lifestyle changes can make those nutritional shifts even more powerful.
If you want to make some lifestyle changes to offset the cognitive decline, there are a number of things you can do. Dr. Kaiser suggests trying these brain-health habits:
- Exercising regularly
- Focusing on de-stressing
- Getting quality sleep
- Learning new skills
- Making time for social interactions
- Managing chronic conditions
People who eat higher amounts of flavonoid-rich foods tend to experience slower cognitive decline. Adding even a small amount of flavonoid-rich foods like berries and red cabbage to your diet may provide brain-health benefits, especially as you age. Look for ways to incorporate about half of a serving into your diet a day for the best results.