Brain food for thought: These 3 antioxidants can shield you from dementia

Could a serving of oranges and spinach each day be the perfect recipe for a healthy brain? Thanks to certain antioxidants, perhaps so! Antioxidants help keep our cells healthy. Now, new research finds antioxidants may also help protect against dementia. Scientists report people with higher antioxidant levels may be less likely to ever develop a form of dementia.

More specifically, study participants with the highest recorded levels of three antioxidants (lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-cryptoxanthin) present in their blood were much less likely to develop dementia decades later than others with much lower levels of those antioxidants.

Wondering where to get some extra antioxidants for yourself? Lutein and zeaxanthin are both in leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, broccoli and peas. Meanwhile, beta-cryptoxanthin is present in fruits like tangerines, oranges, papaya, and persimmons.

“Extending people’s cognitive functioning is an important public health challenge,” says study author May A. Beydoun, PhD, MPH, of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, in a media release. “Antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage. Further studies are needed to test whether adding these antioxidants can help protect the brain from dementia.”

Lutein and zeaxanthin keep the brain health

This research encompassed 7,283 people, all of whom were at least 45 years old at the start of the study. Initially, each person underwent a physical exam, interview, and series of blood tests that measured antioxidant levels. Researchers tracked the group for the next 16 years, on average, to see who developed dementia.

Study authors also separated these people into three groups, according to the antioxidant levels recorded in their blood at the start of the study. Those with the highest amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin were far less likely to develop dementia than others with lower levels.

Moreover, each and every standard deviation increase in lutein and zeaxanthin levels (roughly 15.4 micromols/liter) displayed a connection to a seven-percent decline in dementia risk. Regarding beta-cryptoxanthin, each standard deviation increase in levels (approximately 8.6 micromols/liter) also had an association with a 14-percent lower risk of dementia.

“It’s important to note that the effect of these antioxidants on the risk of dementia was reduced somewhat when we took into account other factors such as education, income and physical activity, so it’s possible that those factors may help explain the relationship between antioxidant levels and dementia,” Dr. Beydoun concludes.

Study authors note this research had its limitations, including only measuring antioxidant levels among the participants one time. Thus, those readings may not have accurately reflected subjects’ antioxidant levels over their lifetime. They add that further research on this topic should feature more regular blood sampling during the tracking period.

The study is published in the journal Neurology.


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