Part 2 - While it's unclear exactly how the antioxidants affected the dogs, Joseph, co-author of "The Color Code: A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health," says many fruits and vegetables primarily valued for their powerful antioxidants may in fact provide multiple benefits for the aging brain. They may not only slow oxidation, but may also act as anti-inflammatory agents, make the brain less vulnerable to amyloid plaque, improve communication between neurons and allow the brain to regenerate — all of which contribute to better memory in old age.
Purple fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cranberries and Concord grapes, may be especially beneficial for the brain, says Joseph. In a study on aging mice genetically engineered to develop Alzheimer's, Joseph was able to improve their cognitive function by feeding the animals a diet high in blueberries.
In addition to better memory and motor skills, Joseph found that the mice had fewer signs of damage from oxidation and inflammation in their brain tissue than did mice fed a standard diet. They also had higher levels of chemicals necessary for brain cells to regenerate and communicate.
While it's still too early to tell if the animal studies apply to humans, it's quite possible that "what's going on in the rat may be what's going on in a human," says Joseph, who published the results of the study last year in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.
In addition to particular fruits and vegetables, scientists believe that curcumin, a spice used in India and known for its anti-inflammatory effects, may prevent memory loss. Curcumin is what gives yellow curry its bright color and is frequently used as a natural food dye.
In a study on genetically engineered mice, Dr. Greg Cole, associate director of the Alzheimer's Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that curcumin helped reduce amyloid plaque in the animals, and also limited damage from oxidation and inflammation. The results of the study were published in 2001 in the Journal of Neuroscience. A clinical trial is now under way at UCLA to test curcumin in people and find an effective dose.
New research has also shown that B vitamins, such as niacin and folic acid, are vitally important to brain function and may help keep the mind sharp. Found in a range of foods, including lean meat, fish, legumes, dairy products, grains and green, leafy vegetables, B vitamins appear to help control inflammation and may play a role in the development of new brain cells.
Supplements may not do the same
Given the growing evidence of the benefits of antioxidants and other chemicals on the brain, why not just take specific supplements to prevent memory loss?
Most researchers caution that sources of antioxidants from food are far more effective - and safer - than supplements. Although it isn't precisely known how the chemicals work, it's believed that they act in combination with one another.
In addition, different chemicals in plants protect against different kinds of damage, and there may be additional but as yet undiscovered substances in plants that work with antioxidants to provide the protective effects.
Fruits + Vegetables
- Red grapes
- Red apples - Kale
- Brussels sprouts
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Red bell peppers