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Aging and Antioxidants

By Dr. Paul Gross

Everybody ages, but as this happens, an increasing number of people are developing brain-related disorders that include memory loss, awareness impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Why are these problems occurring?

As the brain ages the number of healthy neurons or nerve cells is slowly but progressively declining. Over time, continuous damage from “oxidative stress” (a factor of aging made worse by environmental problems related to pollution, tobacco, excessive sunlight) can deteriorate overall brain function.

This deterioration may affect your ability to respond to immediate needs like instant recall or prompt decision-making. Even though symptoms of brain aging may not appear in the early senior years, your brain may be slowly losing these capabilities. In severe cases, these symptoms may be a warning sign for slowly evolving Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

How can we slow or stop this process?

A Leading Role for Dietary Antioxidants

Research over recent years has begun to show that the brain ages mainly due to a combination of damaging oxidative stress and decreased amount of antioxidant defenses, often due to a diet lacking antioxidant-rich foods. High levels of reactive oxygen species (sometimes called “free radicals” that are produced by normal metabolism), left unchecked by sufficient dietary antioxidants can accelerate brain problems. Antioxidants are thought to neutralize these damaging free radicals, helping to prevent further cell and tissue damage. This idea is leading to further research about brain aging.

Many studies have shown that individuals who consume a regular intake of colorful fruits and vegetables may reduce their risk for developing age-related disorders. Research from the laboratory of Dr. Jim Joseph, US Department of Agriculture, Boston, suggests that dietary supplementation with fruit or vegetable extracts high in antioxidants (e.g. blueberry or spinach extracts called phenolics or carotenoids) might decrease our vulnerability to oxidative stress that occurs with aging.

These findings imply that regular consumption of antioxidant-rich foods could beneficially affect three primary conditions determining Alzheimer’s disease:

1) Inflammation

2) Production of damaging free radicals

3) Neuronal signaling and transmission defects

Such an effect remains an untested but promising hypothesis for human clinical trials.

This research also forms a reasonable and simple basis for making dietary recommendations to seniors. In other words, include colorful plant foods in each day’s diet to promote slow and healthy aging.

Reading

* PubMed, online database of the US National Library of Medicine, http://pubmed.gov

* Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Casadesus G. Reversing the deleterious effects of aging on neuronal communication and behavior: beneficial properties of fruit polyphenolic compounds. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Jan;81(1 Suppl):313S-316S.

* Galli RL, Shukitt-Hale B, Youdim KA, Joseph JA. Fruit polyphenolics and brain aging: nutritional interventions targeting age-related neuronal and behavioral deficits.
Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2002 Apr;959:128-32.

* Joseph JA, Shukitt-Hale B, Denisova NA, Bielinski D, Martin A, McEwen JJ, Bickford PC. Reversals of age-related declines in neuronal signal transduction, cognitive, and motor behavioral deficits with blueberry, spinach, or strawberry dietary supplementation.
J Neurosci. 1999 Sep 15;19(18):8114-21.

* Joseph JA, Denisova NA, Bielinski D, Fisher DR, Shukitt-Hale B. Oxidative stress protection and vulnerability in aging: putative nutritional implications for intervention.
Mech Ageing Dev. 2000 Jul 31;116(2-3):141-53.

* Lau FC, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA. The beneficial effects of fruit polyphenols on brain aging. Neurobiol Aging. 2005 Dec;26 Suppl 1:128-32.

Copyright 2006 Berry Health Inc.

Dr. Paul Gross is a scientist and expert on cardiovascular and brain physiology. A published researcher, Gross recently completed a book on the Chinese wolfberry and has begun another on antioxidant berries. Gross is founder of Berry Health Inc, a developer of nutritional, berry-based supplements. For more information, visit http://www.berrywiseonline.com

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