Sometimes it seems there’s an antioxidant to prevent whatever ails you. Antioxidants called flavenoids have been found to lower the risk from a range of chronic illnesses from cancer to heart disease to dementia. New research suggests that flavenoids can also protect men against Parkinson’s disease.
Flavenoids and disease prevention
Flavonoids are natural compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Recent studies have shown that flavenoids can offer protection against a wide range of diseases including heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and dementia. Researchers at Harvard University and the University of East Anglia have conducted the first study on humans to show that flavonoids can protect neurons against diseases of the brain such as Parkinson’s.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurologic disease that progresses as cells in the brain that make dopamine are slowly destroyed. Symptoms include tremors and difficulty with movement and walking.
Approximately 130,000 men and women took part in the 20-year study, published in the journal “Neurology.” More than 800 developed Parkinson’s disease during the study period. After a detailed analysis of their diets and adjusting for age and lifestyle, male participants who ate the most flavonoids were 40 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who ate the least. Flavenoid consumption didn’t benefit women in any measurable way.
Anthocyanins are the key
Researchers said the main protective effect was from higher intake of anthocyanins, powerful flavenoid antioxidants present in dark colored berries and other fruits and vegetables. Of those who at the most flavenoids, those who consumed the most anthocyanins had a 24 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Antioxidants help to neutralize free radicals—destructive by-products of metabolism in the body that can damage cell membranes and DNA. Brain cells are particularly vulnerable to free radicals – which may help to explain the flavenoid benefits defined in the study.
The Harvard/East Anglia flavenoid study found a link between anthocyanins and Parkeinson’s prevention, but didn’t show a cause-effect relationship. Other studies need to confirm the findings, but for men interested in a healthy, holistic way to reduce risk of Parkinson’s, eating berries makes sense.
Finding flavenoid foods
It’s always better to get your flavenoids from whole foods instead of supplements. The two top sources of anthocyanins in the U.S. diet are strawberries and blueberries. There are also many other types of beneficial flavenoids:
- Flavonols: green fruits and vegetables like onion and leeks, apple and broccoli, plus black and green teas and tomatoes.
- Flavanones: citrus fruits are a rich source.
- Flavones: eat your celery and parsley.
- Catechins: present in many fruits like peaches and apricots, apples, cherries and grapes. Green tea is also rich in catechins.
- Isoflavones: get yours in tofu, soy milk, or many soy-based foods.