We know that a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, legumes and less fat can help protect us against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. There is also a direct relationship between the foods we eat and the health of our brain – the most complex organ in the body. A poor diet can have adverse effects on cognitive function and is linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Now, a study led by Dr. Thomas Holland, an assistant professor at the Rush Institute for Health Aging, is exploring associations between bioactives found in food products — like flavonols — and cognition.

Flavonols: what you need to know!

Flavonols are a class of flavonoids, a group of phytochemicals found in plants. These compounds can be extracted from cocoa, tea, apples, and other plant-based foods and beverages. A growing body of research suggests that consuming flavonols may have positive effects on human health.

How do flavonols affect health?

Through various biochemical reactions, free radicals and reactive oxygen species can cause damage to cells and, eventually, organs. This damage is known as oxidative stress. When we ingest foods that contain antioxidants like flavonols or vitamin E, these antioxidants act as reducing agents and essentially “destroy” these free radicals and prevent further cell damage.

Flavonols are also known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Dietary intake of foods that contain nutrients and bioactives with anti-inflammatory properties can potentially prevent the overactivation or continued response of inflammatory cells and thus avoid cell damage.

Flavonols and Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2020, Holland and colleagues published a study of 921 Rush Memory and Aging (MAP) project participants. “This continuing cohort was started in 1997 and is made up of Chicago residents from retirement communities and public senior housing. They have no known dementia when recruited and undergo annual in-person clinical assessments, with detailed risk factor assessments and cognitive testing,” Holland describes.

The researchers concluded in their 2020 paper that a higher dietary intake of flavonols may be associated with a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology’s latest study is an extension of that work, exploring rates of cognitive decline (CD).

The health benefits of flavonoids.

Flavonoids are particularly known for their antioxidant activities, which play an important role in cardiovascular health and cancer prevention. Apart from fighting free radicals, they are also known for their antihistamine, antimicrobial, memory-enhancing, and even mood-enhancing properties.

Flavonoids may have the potential to kill cancer cells.

A University of Illinois study showed that celery, artichokes and herbs, especially Mexican oregano, contain flavonoids that killed human pancreatic cancer cells under laboratory conditions. Flavonoids work by inhibiting an important enzyme. However, the research team said the trick seemed to be to use the flavonoids as a pre-treatment instead of using them alongside the chemotherapy drug. Because “flavonoids can act as antioxidants and taking antioxidant supplements on the same day as chemotherapy drugs can negate the effect of the latter.”

Flavonoids have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.

A review study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed previous research on the beneficial effects of chocolate flavonoids on cardiovascular health. Researchers found that chocolate or cocoa lowered blood pressure and had significant effects on LDL and HDL cholesterol.

Flavonoids are beneficial in controlling diabetes.

The study also found that insulin resistance was improved by chocolate or cocoa due to significant reductions in serum insulin.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.