Drinking tea and red wine with plenty of kale could slash the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a study suggests.
The products are rich in chemicals called flavonols, among many other nutrients which may support brain health.
Researchers at Rush University in Chicago tracked more than 900 older people for up to 12 years after asking them about their diets.
Those who consumed the most flavonols – around one cup of black tea a day – were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s.
Olive oil, pears, oranges and broccoli were among the most beneficial foods to ward of the memory-robbing disease.
However, independent experts said there was no need for people to overhaul their diet because the findings are not definitive.
People in a study who consumed the most flavonols – around one cup of black tea a day – were half as likely to develop Alzheimer’s
Lead author Dr Thomas Holland said: ‘More research is needed to confirm these results, but these are promising findings.
‘Eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking more tea could be a fairly inexpensive and easy way for people to help stave off Alzheimer’s dementia.
‘With the elderly population increasing worldwide, any decrease in the number of people with this devastating disease, or even delaying it for a few years, could have an enormous benefit on public health.’
In the first analysis of its kind the flavonols were broken down into four different types – kaempferol, isorhamnetin, myricetin and quercetin.
In particular kaempferol – abundant in leafy green vegetables like spinach, broccoli and kale as well as tea – slashed the risk of dementia by 51 per cent.
Diets packed with isorhamnetin – found in olive oil, red wine, pears and tomato sauce reduced the risk by 38 per cent, as did myricetin, found in tea, kale, oranges, tomatoes and red wine.
Quercetin, found in apples, had no effect.
In the study published in Neurology, 921 people with an average age of 81 filled out a questionnaire each year on how often they ate certain foods.
They were followed for an average of six years, up to 12 years, with annual checks to see if they had developed Alzheimer’s. Some 220 were diagnosed.
Those who consumed the most of 15.3milligrams (mg) per day – around the same amount in a cup of black tea – were 48 per cent less likely to be struck down by Alzheimer’s than those who consumed the least, of about 5.3mg per day.
This was after taking into account genetic pre-disposition and demographic and lifestyle factors.
Of the 186 people in the highest group, 28 were diagnosed with dementia (15 per cent). This compares to 54 (30 per cent) of the 182 in the lowest group.
The results were the same after researchers adjusted for health problems that could affect the risk of Alzheimer’s such as diabetes, a previous heart attack or stroke and high blood pressure.
Dr Holland said: ‘Our findings suggest dietary intake of flavonols may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.
‘Flavonols are known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.’
HOW TO DETECT ALZHEIMER’S
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills and the ability to perform simple tasks.
It is the cause of 60 percent to 70 percent of cases of dementia.
The majority of people with Alzheimer’s are age 65 and older.
More than five million Americans have Alzheimer’s.
It is unknown what causes Alzheimer’s. Those who have the APOE gene are more likely to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s.
Signs and symptoms:
- Difficulty remembering newly learned information
- Mood and behavioral changes
- Suspicion about family, friends and professional caregivers
- More serious memory loss
- Difficulty with speaking, swallowing and walking
Stages of Alzheimer’s:
- Mild Alzheimer’s (early-stage) – A person may be able to function independently but is having memory lapses
- Moderate Alzheimer’s (middle-stage) – Typically the longest stage, the person may confuse words, get frustrated or angry, or have sudden behavioral changes
- Severe Alzheimer’s disease (late-stage) – In the final stage, individuals lose the ability to respond to their environment, carry on a conversation and, eventually, control movement
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s, but experts suggest physical exercise, social interaction and adding brain boosting omega-3 fats to your diet to prevent or slowdown the onset of symptoms.
The Alzheimer’s Society says high levels of antioxidants may help to protect against some of the damage to brain cells associated with the disease.
Inflammation – in the form of a chemical change in the brain – is closely tied with Alzheimer’s, therefore a diet high in antioxidants is believed to help reduce the risk.
But not all experts are in agreement – Dr Ada Garcia, a lecturer in public health nutrition, University of Glasgow, said antioxidants are not a ‘magic pill’ against dementia.
She said: ‘The general public might interpret this study wrongly and think about the term “antioxidant” as a magic pill that will prevent the onset of dementia.
‘It is important to remember that consuming isolated flavonols or extracts of flavonol rich foods, for example tea extracts, will not work on isolation to reduce risk of disease.
‘High doses can also have negative effects on health.’
Red wine contains flavonols which may stave off Alzheimer’s, according to the study
Professor Gunter Kuhnle, nutrition and food science at University of Reading, said: ‘There are a lot of misunderstandings regarding flavonols and flavonoids.
‘They do not act as antioxidants in the human body. This was believed decades ago, but a better understanding has shown that once they are taken up by the body, they can no longer act as antioxidant.’
Adults in the UK consume around 30mg of flavonols each day, Professor Kuhnle said. For US and European adults, the average daily intake of flavonols is about 16 to 20mg.
Those who eat high quantities are likely to also be eating other chemicals in abundance, which cannot be ruled out as the reason for the findings.
Dr Ana Rodriguez-Mateos, a lecturer in nutritional sciences, Kings College London, said it’s ‘more feasible’ the observed effects are related to other chemicals.
She said: ‘Flavonols tend to be present in foods in much lower amounts than other phytochemicals. The amount of flavonols in such foods are tiny.’
There is good evidence that a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk of developing dementia when you’re older, according to the NHS.
Dr James Connell, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘While we don’t know whether flavonols could have any particular effect on dementia risk, a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables can help to support a healthy brain.’
More than six in ten people with dementia have Alzheimer’s, making it by the far the most common form of the disease.
There are more than 520,000 sufferers in the UK alone. Symptoms are wide-ranging and worsen over time, and include memory loss and confusion.
By 2050 around two million Britons will be living with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Society say dementia is set to be the 21st Century’s biggest killer. With no way yet to cure it, ‘prevention is key’.
Alzheimer’s Research UK says the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables and olive oil, can support healthy brain ageing.
EIGHT LIFESTYLE CHANGES YOU CAN MAKE TO BEAT DEMENTIA
Be physically active – Regular moderate physical exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia, raise your cardiovascular health and improve your mental wellbeing. ‘Regular’ means exercising five times each week for 30 minutes each time. You can build up to this gradually. ‘Moderate’ exercise means doing an activity that leaves you a bit out of breath, raises your heart rate and may make you slightly sweaty. Exercising like this brings many health benefits even if you’re not losing weight. Activities could include brisk walking, cycling, swimming or dancing. You don’t have to go to a gym or run a marathon. You could join a walking group, try a class at your leisure centre, or go dancing with friends. Try cycling to work, walking the children to school, getting off the bus two stops earlier and walking or taking the stairs instead of the lift. There are now lots of wearable gadgets or smartphone apps which record how active you’ve been.
Stop smoking – If you do smoke, stop. It is better to stop smoking sooner (or better still, to never start) but it is never too late to quit. Even if you stop smoking in later life it will benefit your overall health and may reduce your risk of dementia. NHS Stop Smoking advisers can provide information, advice and support on how to quit. You might be able to refer yourself, or talk to your GP or local pharmacy for advice. Many people now use e-cigarettes, which provide nicotine without the harmful tobacco smoke, to help them quit smoking. For more information about quitting call the NHS Go Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044.
Eat healthily – A healthy balanced diet includes lots of fruit and vegetables. Aim for five portions a day. Fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables all count. A healthy diet also has fish at least twice a week, including oily fish (eg mackerel, salmon, sardines) which contains healthy polyunsaturated (omega-3) fatty acids and vitamin D. Adding starchy foods (eg potatoes, brown rice, pasta, bread) and protein (eg meat, fish, eggs, beans) will also help you maintain a balanced diet. Following a ‘Mediterranean’ kind of diet is good for your cardiovascular health and may reduce your dementia risk. This diet is high in vegetables, fruit and cereals. Fats are mainly unsaturated (eg olive oil) with very little saturated fat (eg cakes, biscuits, butter, most cheeses). A Mediterranean diet also has some fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, but only a small amount of red or processed meat. To eat healthily, limit sugary treats such as fizzy drinks and sweets and keep an eye on your salt intake, especially salt hidden in bread, pizza and ready meals. Read the labels on foods to see what they contain or look for healthier (reduced fat or salt) options. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are thinking of taking a vitamin or mineral supplement.
Maintain a healthy weight – Keeping to a healthy weight will reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease – and hence probably of dementia. As well as weight, keep an eye on your waistline, as fat round your middle is particularly unhealthy. A good starting point is to follow the advice on physical exercise and maintain a healthy diet. Keep a diary of your food intake and exercise for each day – you are more likely to lose weight if you burn off what you eat. Visit the NHS Live Well pages for ideas, such as eating smaller portions at mealtimes. Alcohol contains hidden calories, so be aware of how much you drink. You could also consider joining a local weight loss group. If you’ve tried to make changes without success, your GP can also offer advice.
Drink alcohol within recommended levels (if at all) – If you do drink, keep below the recommended NHS levels. These changed in 2016 and are now a maximum of 14 units each week for men and women, spread over three or more days. This is the same as four or five large glasses of wine over the week, or seven pints of beer or lager with lower alcohol content. To check how much you’re drinking, record your units over the week – and be honest. If you want to cut down, set yourself a limit for each time you drink (and keep to it). You can also try smaller glasses, drinks with lower alcohol content, drinking with food, or alternating soft and alcoholic drinks. If you really find it a struggle to cut down, talk to your GP about what support is available.
Keep mentally active – If you can keep your mind stimulated you are likely to reduce your risk of dementia. Regular mental activity throughout a person’s lifetime seems to increase the brain’s ability. This helps build up a ‘cognitive reserve’ and allows the brain to cope better with disease. (This link between brain activity and dementia is sometimes described as ‘Use it or lose it’.) Keeping mentally active could help to delay the symptoms of dementia by several years. It could even mean that you never get it. You could try learning a new language, doing puzzles (eg word searches, crosswords, Sudoku), playing cards, reading challenging books or writing letters. Find something enjoyable which stimulates your mind, do it regularly and keep doing it. There is not yet enough evidence to add computer ‘brain training’ games to this list, in spite of claims made by some manufacturers. Benefits from brain training are so far modest. They might make you better at a specific task, as practised within the game, but broader benefits for your mind or daily life are so far largely unproven. None has been shown to reduce the risk of developing dementia, although there is lots of research and new studies reporting all the time. Reducing your dementia risk means living a healthy lifestyle and keeping physically, mentally and socially active.
Be social – There is emerging evidence that keeping socially engaged and having a supportive social network may reduce your dementia risk. It will also make you less prone to depression and more resilient. Try to visit family and friends, look after grandchildren, travel or volunteer. You may like to try joining a social/activity club or a group at a place of worship.
Take control of your health – Managing your health can reduce your dementia risk. If you are invited for an NHS Health Check (in England), make sure you go. At this free mid-life ‘MOT’, a health professional will talk to you and measure your cardiovascular risk factors (eg blood pressure, weight, cholesterol). If necessary, you can then agree a plan to reduce your own risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia. In Wales, visit the Add to your life website for a self-assessment. In Northern Ireland, contact Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (see ‘Other useful organisations’).You can keep track at of your weight or measure your blood pressure at home at any time with a simple monitor. If you feel that you might be getting depressed, seek treatment early. If you are already living with a long-term condition (eg diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure) it’s important to keep this under control. Follow professional advice about taking medicines – even if you feel well – and on lifestyle, such as diet and exercise.