A new research study, headed by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Norwich Medical School, suggests that there is a promising link between a diet rich in flavonoid heavy foods and lower chances of the degenerative Parkinson’s disease. Yet while this particularly extensive study looked at the dietary habits of both men and women over a 20 to 22 year period, it was only in men that the greatest results were most prevalent.
In order to begin to understand the course of the study and its results, it must first be explained that flavonoids are naturally occurring substances found in many plant-based foods such as tea, dark chocolate, red wine, and berries. Berries, in particular strawberries and blueberries, contain the highest concentration of anthocyacins—a specific type of flavonoid found to have the greatest anti-inflammatory effect as well as being the most capable of protecting cells from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is believed to be involved in a number of serious diseases and illnesses including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.—however, this study only looked into a link to Parkinson’s.
A known degenerative condition that acts upon the body’s central nervous system, Parkinson’s disease affects upwards of half a million Americans today. Characterized by muscle spasms and tremors, those with Parkinson’s may also have trouble walking, moving around, and keeping balanced. While it is still unsure exactly how these foods protect the body against this illness, the study found that out of the 130,000 men and women who took part, men who enjoyed a flavonoid-rich diet had a 40 percent lower chance of developing Parkinson’s over men who ate lower amounts of flavonoids.
There was no substantial evidence when it came to the women in the study. “For total flavonoids, the beneficial result was only in men. But berries are protective in both men and women,” explained Dr. Xiang Gao, an associate epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who headed the study.
While the scientists behind the study are first to admit that additional research is necessary to fully understand the correlation between these foods and the disease, they do not argue that there are certain health benefits to eating at least a couple of servings of berries each week. Even after looking at the individual dietary compounds of those who partook in the study, researchers were able to conclude that both men and women would ultimately be able to benefit from such a healthy diet.
So while there is still plenty of room for additional research and studies, one thing that can be made clear is that consuming foods heavy in flavonoids will be beneficial to everyone. “Berries could be a neuroprotective agent. People can include berries in their regular diet,” Gao sums up. “There are no harmful effects from berry consumption, and they lower the risk of hypertension, too.” So whether it is pleasant bowl of berries, or a nice glass of red wine, we now have another reason to enjoy the fruits of summer.
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