As we age, our brains shrink, and that shrinkage progresses more rapidly for those with multiple sclerosis. In fact, anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease is also at a higher risk for brain shrinkage. Brain shrink occurs when brain cells die and are not replaced. As you can imagine, that is not a good thing -- it is far better to help keep brain cells healthy, thus preventing their premature death. There is more and more research about the foods that help protect our brain cells from this premature dying. Antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits are an important brain-maintaining food category we should eat everyday.
Flavonoids, a group of compounds found in plants, have been studied extensively for their positive health impacts. In general, plants that are brightly colored have a good supply of helpful flavonoids; some of the best sources include berries, black grapes and citrus. These compounds have been shown to protect brain cells that are grown in laboratory. This article explains a bit more about how flavonoids help protect our brain cells and their effects on memory and cognition. In another study, Concord grape juice supplements improve memory function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment, subjects with mild memory problems -- not diagnosable dementia -- were randomized and given either grape juice or purple sugar water. Neither the subject nor the researchers knew who was drinking real grape juice. After just 12 weeks, significant improvement in memory and verbal recall was observed in those receiving daily grape juice!
Although the precise mechanism of action by which flavonoids protect brain cells is not known, studies have shown diets rich in berries not only protect brain cells but also lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.
Berries, grapes, and citrus are potent sources of flavonoids. Beets, both the tops and the roots, are also excellent sources of flavonoids and many antioxidant compounds. The greens have a lot of oxalic acid, which should be avoided by those with a history of kidney stones.
I advocate food as our primary defense to keep our brains as healthy and vibrant as possible. As you know, the Wahls Diet ™ is 9 servings of vegetables and fruit: 3 servings of green leaves, 3 servings of sulfur rich and 3 servings of bright colors. People with diabetes should rely on vegetables, but if you are not diabetic, you may enjoy berries as well. They are wonderful in smoothies, as an accent in salads or as the finishing touch to your meal.