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Eating more fruits and vegetables can improve brain health, study finds

Consuming more antioxidant flavonols, found in various fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine, may slow memory decline
Consuming more antioxidant flavonols, found in various fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine, may slow memory decline. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Recent research published in Neurology®, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals that consuming more antioxidant flavonols, found in various fruits, vegetables, tea, and wine, may slow memory decline.

Study author Dr. Thomas M. Holland from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago states, “It’s exciting that our study shows making specific diet choices may lead to a slower rate of cognitive decline. Something as simple as eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more tea is an easy way for people to take an active role in maintaining their brain health.”


Flavonols are a subset of flavonoids, plant compounds known for their health benefits. The study examined the effects of flavonol intake on cognitive decline in older adults.

Flavonol rich foods
Flavonol rich foods (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

The study involved 961 participants with an average age of 81, none of whom had dementia at the start. Each year, participants completed a food frequency questionnaire and cognitive tests. These tests included word recall, number memory, and ordering tasks. The study also collected data on participants' education levels, physical activity, and mentally engaging activities like reading and playing games. The participants were tracked for an average of seven years.


Flavonol Intake and Cognitive Decline

Participants were divided into five groups based on their flavonol intake. The average flavonol consumption in the study was about 10 milligrams (mg) per day, lower than the U.S. adult average of 16 to 20 mg per day.

The lowest intake group consumed about 5 mg per day, while the highest intake group consumed around 15 mg per day, equivalent to about one cup of dark leafy greens.


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To measure cognitive decline, researchers used a global cognition score, which summarized results from 19 cognitive tests. The score ranged from 0.5 for those without cognitive issues to -0.5 for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Adjusting for factors like age, sex, and smoking, researchers found that higher flavonol intake correlated with a slower rate of cognitive decline. Specifically, the highest flavonol intake group had a 0.4 units per decade slower decline compared to the lowest intake group.


Dr. Holland attributes this to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of flavonols.

Breaking Down Flavonols

The study further analyzed four types of flavonols: kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin, and isorhamnetin. Major food sources for these flavonols included:

  • Kaempferol: Kale, beans, tea, spinach, broccoli

  • Quercetin: Tomatoes, kale, apples, tea

  • Myricetin: Tea, wine, kale, oranges, tomatoes

  • Isorhamnetin: Pears, olive oil, wine, tomato sauce

The highest kaempferol intake was associated with a 0.4 units per decade slower cognitive decline. The highest quercetin intake correlated with a 0.2 units per decade slower decline, and the highest myricetin intake showed a 0.3 units per decade slower decline. However, dietary isorhamnetin did not show a significant association with global cognition.


While the study suggests a link between higher flavonol intake and slower cognitive decline, it does not establish causation. Additionally, the reliance on self-reported food frequency questionnaires poses a limitation, as participants might not accurately recall their dietary intake.

Chemical structure of myricetin
Chemical structure of myricetin. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

The study received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.


This research underscores the potential cognitive benefits of a diet rich in flavonols, suggesting that simple dietary changes could play a role in maintaining brain health as we age.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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