Antioxidants against aging
When you talk about getting “rusty” at certain tasks, you may not be far off. Oxidation, the process that causes metal to rust, can also damage your brain cells. And that’s not all. “Every major disease you can think of with respect to aging has an oxidative stress and inflammatory component–dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s–you name it,” says James Josephs, PhD, chief of the neurosciences laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Antioxidants–vitamins C, E, A, and other compounds in foods–can help curtail the damage by disarming potentially harmful free radicals.
Josephs’ research shows that some antioxidative compounds in the foods we eat have a direct affinity for specific areas of the brain: Ellagitannins in raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are found in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory control area. Proanthocyanins in blueberries, purple grapes, red grape juice, and red wine gravitate toward the striatum, which is more closely associated with spatial memory. The implication? These compounds may enhance the performance of those specific parts of the brain. And, indeed, much of Josephs’ research focuses on how these food types improve cognitive and motor skills in animals.
Another encouraging animal lab study showed that quercetin might play a role in maintaining our brains by reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. So get your apple a day, as they say.
In the spice category, curcumin, a component of the curry spice turmeric, also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may even prove useful in treating Alzheimer’s: One recent study showed a reduction in beta-amyloid deposits, the plaques associated with the disease, in the brains of rats fed curcumin-enhanced food.
What to eat: Increase your intake of a wide variety of different color fruits and vegetables to five to 10 servings a day. Drinking your quota can help, too. In one study, people who drank fruit and vegetable juices at least three times a week reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 75 percent. Sip antioxidant tea (green or black without milk, according to the latest research), or treat yourself to a moderate amount of very dark chocolate or hot cocoa, one of the richest sources of powerful antioxidant flavonoids. Sprinkle some turmeric-rich curry powder on vegetables. Mix the spice into spreads and dips for veggies, or enjoy a curry dish at your local Indian restaurant.