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Antioxidants shown to lower dementia risk

While observational, the study indicates eating leafy green veggies and fruits like oranges and papayas may lower dementia risk by between 7 and 12%.

(CN) — A new study shows that avoiding dementia may be as easy as eating spinach and oranges.

Published in Neurology on Wednesday, the study followed thousands of people over approximately 16 years to investigate a link between antioxidants and dementia risk. According to the CDC, 5 million adults in the U.S. had been diagnosed with dementia as of 2014. By 2060, the figure will increase to 14 million. 

“Extending people’s cognitive functioning is an important public health challenge,” said study author May A. Beydoun in a statement. 

Despite those over 65 being the most prone to dementia, it is not a normal part of aging. Memory-related aging signs include misplacing car keys or forgetting the name of an acquaintance. People living with dementia experience memory loss and difficulties with attention, reasoning and communication. There are many dementia types, but most share a common cause — restricted blood flow to the brain and brain cell deterioration. 

The study authors conducted physical exams and interviews and collected blood samples from 7,283 people aged 45 and over. The blood samples were then analyzed for antioxidant levels, dividing the participants into three groups. Finally, the participants were surveyed around 16 years later to see how many developed dementia. 

There is a connection between the antioxidant levels at the beginning of the study and dementia risk. Those with higher antioxidant levels of lutein and zeaxanthin were at least 7% less likely to develop dementia. High levels of antioxidant beta-cryptoxanthin had a reduced risk of dementia by at least 12%. Lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in leafy green vegetables like broccoli, kale, peas and spinach. Fruits like oranges, persimmons and papayas contain beta-cryptoxanthin. 

The research does have significant limitations: while the data does suggest a link between antioxidants and dementia risk, only one blood sample was analyzed. 

“Because this result is from an observational study, it must be tested in a randomized controlled clinical trial to know for sure whether a higher level of antioxidants might protect against dementia,” said Michele Evans, deputy scientific director at the National Institute on Aging. 

If more blood samples had been analyzed over the 16-year study, researchers might have been able to prove a direct relationship between antioxidants and dementia risk. Researchers took other factors such as education, physical activity, and income into consideration, and that they may help describe the trend. However, this observational study gives insight into the future of dementia research. 

“Antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage. Further studies are needed to test whether adding these antioxidants can help protect the brain from dementia,” Beydoun said. 

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