According to a new study, flavanols — antioxidants found in vegetables, fruits and tea — may slow the rate of memory loss in individuals aged 60 to 100. The study was written and done by Thomas Holland, physician scientist at Rush University.
While the study does not directly prove flavanols cause slower rates of cognitive decline, the cognitive scores of people who ate foods higher in flavanols declined 0.4 units per decade, slower than those who ate fewer flavanol-heavy foods. The specific flavanols that produced positive effects were kaempferol, which restrains the growth of cancer cells, and quercetin, which helps prevent swelling and averts heart disease.
Registered IU Dietician Katie Shepherd said even though college students are not primarily concerned with their diets, eating healthy now can benefit their energy levels and immune function. Healthy foods provide a synergistic effect, which means they have multiple benefits.
Eating healthy foods now can play a role later in life and can contribute to chronic disease prevention, brain health and cognitive function, which is what Holland’s study is demonstrating.
“Healthy habits need to be formed across the span of a lifetime,” Shepherd said.
Holland said the models from the study were adjusted to account for factors such as age, sex, education, physical activity, smoking and late life cognitive activity. He found that males had a higher decreased risk of cognitive decline than females. Moreover, even though the study focused on older generations, he said it is never too late or too early to start eating healthy.
“Flavanols are a piece of the diet puzzle,” Holland said. “They optimize physical and cognitive functionality and allow you to be diverse in (your) lifestyle.”
Holland said there are subjective improvements in cognition when one eats healthier at any age. People feel better and fresher overall, and they believe they have more control and ability to do more things. Intaking flavanols can help college students get better quality sleep and be more comfortable socializing, Holland said.
David Klurfeld, adjunct professor in the Department of Applied Sciences at the IU School of Public Health, said increasing flavanol intake through pills and vitamins can be harmful. When people avoid eating the original source of a vitamin, it can trick them into thinking it is acceptable to take pills to replace other foods too. For example, people can drink Mountain Dew or unsweetened tea to get their daily sugar intake, but the tea will provide better health benefits both in the short and long term. It will not damage one’s sugar metabolism or liver like Mountain Dew can.
Klurfeld said it is hard to conduct studies that follow people’s eating habits over a prolonged period because there will always be occasions when the study participants eat unhealthy for special events, or they will lie about their eating habits to appear healthier. People are educated time and time again about what constitutes a good diet.
“A lot of people know what they should do,” Klurfeld said. “They just aren’t willing to do it right.”