- Flavonoids are compounds that exert an antioxidant effect and are found in berries, red wine, and tea.
- A new study shows a lower mortality risk for people with Parkinson’s disease who consume more flavonoid-rich foods and beverages.
- This link was especially strong for people who ate more foods that contain anthocyanins, which are found in berries.
Nearly 1 million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the brain. Flavonoids from foods have some neuroprotective benefits, and new research published in the journal Neurology looked at whether eating a diet rich in flavonoids may improve survival rates among people with Parkinson’s disease.
“Flavonoids are a group of compounds that are found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based foods like wine, chocolate, and tea,” explains Brynn McDowell, RDN, a dietitian a creator at The Domestic Dietitian.
About the Study
For this prospective study, the researchers analyzed data from the Nurses Health Study database. This study focused on 599 women and 652 men with a diagnosis of PD at follow-up. Overall, the study spanned a 34-year period.
Dietary intake records were taken every four years to determine how often participants ate flavonoid-rich foods, including berries, tea, apples, oranges, and red wine. The researchers found that the participants in the group who consumed the most flavonoid-rich foods and beverages had a 70% greater chance of survival during the 34-year study period, compared to those who consumed the least amount of flavonoids.
People consuming the most flavonoids consumed about 673 milligrams each day, while those consuming the least took in about 134 milligrams. For context, a 100-gram serving of berries has between 100 and 1,700 milligrams of flavonoids, depending on the variety. And one cup of brewed black tea contains about 172 milligrams of total flavonoids.
It is important to note that this study shows an association, but was not looking to determine cause and effect. Additionally, the exact mechanism of reducing mortality wasn’t the focus of the study. But nutrition experts have some theories about the role flavonoids may play in reducing mortality rates.
“The flavonoids could help protect against cognitive decline and depression in those with PD,” says McDowell. “Both cognitive decline and depression can lead to a higher risk of mortality. Researchers also believe that the high antioxidant powers of flavonoids may lead to decreased inflammation in the brain in those with PD.”
Foods That Contain Flavonoids
The researchers determined that adding a few servings of flavonoid-rich foods to the diet each week could potentially help improve life expectancy for people with PD. So, how can you get more flavonoids in your daily meals? It could be as simple as eating more berries and drinking tea.
McDowell says that flavonoids are found in deeply colored foods like grapes, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries. Other flavonoid-rich foods include kale, broccoli, oranges, and cocoa, along with white, green, black, and oolong teas. A diet filled with vegetables and fruits is your best bet, accompanied by tea as the main beverage.
There are six classes of flavonoids, including flavonols, flavan-3-ols, and anthocyanins. In this study, anthocyanins were deemed to be the most protective. They are found in berries, grapes, and red wine. When analyzing the individual flavonoids, the researchers found that those in the top 25% of consumers of anthocyanins had a 66% greater survival rate, compared to those in the lowest 25%.
Brynn McDowell, RDN
— Brynn McDowell, RDN
The researchers also found a protective effect from flavan-3-ols, which are found in apples, tea, and wine. The top consumers of flavan-3-ols had a 69% greater survival rate, compared to those who consumed the lowest amount.
“Flavonoids help the body function by regulating cell activity and they are a powerful antioxidant that helps fight off free radicals that can stress and damage to cells in the body,” says McDowell. “Research also indicates that flavonoids can help reduce inflammation in the body. ”
If wine is your chosen source of flavonoids, it’s important to remember alcohol consumption guidelines for overall health. For instance, you should limit wine to no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine a day for women, or two glasses for men. You can also try dealcoholized wine.
Support for Brain Health
Flavonoids are part of a group of polyphenols that function as antioxidants. Even in the absence of PD, a diet rich in flavonoids is still a good choice. Interestingly, the researchers found that a higher total flavonoid intake—even before PD diagnosis—was associated with a lower future risk for all-cause mortality in men (but not in women).
Jessica Mollet, RDN, LDN
— Jessica Mollet, RDN, LDN
“In addition to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, flavonoids protect against mitochondrial cell death and induce growth, all of which may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s diseases,” says Jessica Mollet, RDN, LDN, a dietitian with wellbeingwithnutrition.com.
What This Means For You:
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