Eating This Once a Week Slashes Risk of Alzheimer's by 34 Percent, Study Says
While we can't escape the aging process, getting older looks different for everyone, both in how it affects us physically and mentally. One thing many of us worry about is that the older we get, the more likely we are to lose our memories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014, there were an estimated 5 million adults 65 and older in the country with dementia, and by 2060, that number is expected to go up to almost 14 million. But that doesn't mean developing the disease is increasing inevitable. There are ways to reduce your risk of developing dementia, including making small changes to what you eat and drink. In fact, one study has found that eating this popular fruit once a week can slash your Alzheimer's risk by up to 34 percent. To see what snack you should be having more often for the sake of your brain, read on.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients, researcher Puja Agarwal, PhD, and her team at Rush University examined how eating certain foods can lower one's risk of developing Alzheimer's. For the study, researchers analyzed 925 participants, all between the ages of 58 and 98, who were a part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study on the decline of cognitive and motor functions that can come with aging. All participants were dementia-free at the start of the project and took food frequency questionnaires (FFQ) between 2004 and 2018, in which they recorded how often they ate certain fruits, vegetables, and seafood.
Along with dietary assessments, participants had at least two neurological examinations during the Rush Memory and Aging Project. Each exam included 21 cognitive tests, a clinical judgment conducted by a neurologist, and diagnostic classification of Alzheimer's by a clinician.
By examining these FFQs and neurological exams, Agarwal and her fellow researchers discovered that participants who consumed at least one serving of strawberries per week had a 34 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's compared to those who ate the fruit once a month or not at all. The researchers found that those who had the most intake of pelargonidin—one of the antioxidants in strawberries—had a 44 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer's compared to those with the lowest intake.
Previous research has also shown that strawberries can boost your brain. Back in 2012, another study published by the Annals of Neurology discovered that both strawberries and blueberries could benefit your memory. Researchers collected data from the Nurses' Health Study, which included 121,700 women registered nurses who completed health questionnaires starting in 1980. Participants were asked questions about their frequency of food consumption every four years. Cognitive function was also measured in 16,010 of the participants over the age of 70 every two years, from 1995 to 2001.
The results showed that eating strawberries and blueberries slowed down the process of memory decline in women. "Among women who consumed two or more servings of strawberries and blueberries each week, we saw a modest reduction in memory decline," explained author Elizabeth Devore, a researcher at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a statement. "This effect appears to be attainable with relatively simple dietary modifications."
Doctors have long recommended berries as one of the keys to delaying and preventing dementia. While speaking to CBS News this past January, neurosurgeon and medical reporter Sanjay Gupta, MD, emphasized that berries can help our minds sharp. "I think when it comes to the brain, it's berries," he said. "Berries, in terms of what they can do for the brain and some of these certain chemicals that they release, are probably gonna be one of your best foods."
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Both blueberries and strawberries have high levels of flavonoids—compounds found in fruits and vegetables—that can boost brain health. A 2020 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at data from the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort exams, which included 2,801 participants who didn't have dementia or a related disease, and completed a FFQ at the start of the project. The team discovered that individuals with the highest intakes of flavonoids had a lower risk of Alzheimer's and similar diseases compared to those with the lowest intakes.
"The people who may benefit the most from consuming more flavonoids are people at the lowest levels of intake, and it doesn't take much to improve levels," author Esra Shishtar said in a statement. "A cup of tea a day or some berries two or three times a week would be adequate."
Another 2021 study, published in the journal Neurology, found that people who consumed about 600 milligrams (mg) of flavonoids per day had a 20 percent lower risk of cognitive decline than those who only consumed 150 mg. If you're wondering what that breaks down to for you, know that blueberries contain about 164 mg of flavonoids per 1/2 cup, while strawberries have 180 mg per 1/2 cup, according to the report.
And there are other fruits and veggies that can provide the same benefit, if you're not a berry fan. Study author Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, of Harvard University, said orange juice, oranges, peppers, celery, grapefruits, grapefruit juice, apples, and pears can all have similar benefits. "A colorful diet rich in flavonoids … seems to be a good bet for promoting long-term brain health," he said in a statement. "And it's never too late to start."