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Seniors: Juice Up Your Brain

Seniors: Juice Up Your Brain: Main Image
The classic deep purple Concord grapes used in many grape juices are loaded with antioxidants
The classic deep purple Concord grapes used in many grape juices are more than just deliciously sweet: they are loaded with antioxidants. Scientists generally agree that antioxidants are the key to slowing the aging process, and now there is evidence that drinking antioxidant-rich Concord grape juice might protect the aging brain. A new study found that elderly people with early cognitive decline showed signs of improvement after drinking three glasses of Concord grape juice every day for 12 weeks.

Better memory with grape juice

The study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, included 12 older adults with memory decline (not dementia). They were randomly assigned to receive either 100% Concord grape juice or placebo three times per day for 12 weeks. The total amount of juice consumed per day was based on each person's body weight (between 444 and 621 ml; 14 and 21 ounces).

The people receiving grape juice did up to 60% better at the end of the study compared to the beginning on tests that measured learning and memory, while those receiving the placebo drink showed no improvement. Average body weight and waist circumference did not change in either group.

Purple pigments might hold the key

Anthocyanins are reddish-blue flavonoid pigments abundant in fruits such as purple grapes and blueberries, and vegetables such as purple cabbage. They are in the family of polyphenols known as flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants. The authors of this study speculated that the anthocyanins and other polyphenols found in Concord grape juice might be responsible for the benefits they saw.

"Given the existing body of research linking polyphenol consumption with a lower risk of age-related neurodegenerative changes and with reduced levels of inflammatory and oxidative stress markers in people with cardiovascular disease, it is likely that the flavonoids found in Concord grape juice are at least partly responsible for the beneficial effects we observed," said lead study author Dr. Robert Krikorian from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center.

Preventing cognitive decline

Drinking grape juice is a good way to increase your levels of anthocyanins. Eating anthocyanin-rich foods is safe, so pile your plate high with purple grapes, blueberries, and purple cabbage. Other ways to prevent cognitive decline include the following:

  • Exercise: Numerous studies confirm that staying active prevents loss of cognitive function.
  • Play games: Engaging in thinking games and puzzles has been found to prevent memory loss and reduce the risk of dementia.
  • Take ginkgo: Most, but not all, clinical trials have found that Ginkgo biloba supplementation is safe and effective for treating mild age-related cognitive decline.

(Br J Nutr 2010;103:730-4)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.
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