By Dr. Paul
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.
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?
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
These findings imply that regular consumption of antioxidant-rich
foods could beneficially affect three primary conditions determining
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
* 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
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