Flavonoid-rich diet may lower risk of death for Parkinson’s disease patients

Parkinson’s disease patients who consume more flavonoids in their diet may lower their risk of mortality, according to recent research. In individuals already diagnosed with Parkinson’s, researchers observed that those who ate more flavonoid-rich food were less likely to die over the course of the 34-year study. Eating larger amounts of flavonoids prior to a diagnosis was also associated with lower mortality risk for men, but the same was not found to be true for women. 

Flavonoids are compounds found in vividly colorful fruits and vegetables like berries, kale, grapes, oranges, onions and broccoli. Red wine, tea, and chocolate are also popular sources of the healthy chemicals. They’re linked to a slew of health benefits from improved blood pressure to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Now scientists are pointing to its benefits for people with neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.

Recent data from the Parkinson’s Foundation finds that over 60,000 people are diagnosed with the disease annually, adding to the more than 10 million people around the world already suffering from it. Symptoms include tremors, stiffness, and balance issues. They’re caused by the brain’s failure to produce enough dopamine

Parkinson’s is not considered to be fatal, but the symptoms and complications that result from it often lead to a greater risk of death for patients, according to Xiang Gao, professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State. He notes that there is insufficient research to fully understand how diet can affect disease prognosis in PD patients. 

“Our group’s previous research found that when people without Parkinson’s ate more flavonoids, it was associated with a lower risk of them developing the disease in the future,” Gao says in a statement. “We wanted to further explore whether flavonoid intake could be linked to better survival in individuals who had already been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.”

In their study, researchers gathered data from 599 women and 652 men with a recent Parkinson’s disease diagnosis on how often they consumed foods rich in flavonoids. They analyzed this information to calculate flavonoid intake, multiplying flavonoid content of foods in their diet by the frequency at which they ate them. 

After adjusting their calculation for external factors including age, calorie consumption, and diet quality, researchers determined that the top 25 percent of flavonoid-consuming participants, who consumed approximately 674 milligrams (mg) a day, had a 70% increase in survival. That’s compared to the group with the lowest flavonoid consumption, who only ate about 134mg. 

Additionally, researchers found that all flavonoids are not equally effective, with some varieties demonstrating distinctly beneficial results. A 66 percent greater survival rate was found resulting from the top 25 percent consumers of anthocyanins, which are found in red wine and berries, compared with the lowest 25 percent. Top consumers of flavan-3-ols, which are found in apples, tea, and wine, saw a 69 percent increase in survival rate when compared to the lowest group. 

Researchers are not entirely certain what makes flavonoids so effective in reducing mortality in patients. But, they have proposed a few explanations, according to Xinyuan Zhang, Ph.D. a candidate in nutritional sciences at Penn State. 

“Flavonoids are antioxidants, so it’s possible they could be lowering chronic neuroinflammation levels,” Zhang said. “It’s also possible they may interact with enzyme activities and slow neuron loss and could protect against cognitive decline and depression, which are both associated with higher mortality risk.”

Future research will be required to identify the specific mechanisms responsible for increased survival rates for Parkinson’s patients who consume a flavonoid-rich diet. However, results from this study give researchers hope that they may have identified an easy way to extend the lifespan of patients. 

“Adding a few servings of flavonoid-rich foods to their diets a week could potentially be an easy way for people with Parkinson’s disease to help improve their life expectancy,” said Zhang. 

This study is published in Neurology

Article by Anna Landry

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Steve Fink

Steve Fink is the Editor-in-Chief of BrainTomorrow.com, GutNews.com and StudyFinds.com. He is formerly the Vice President of News Engagement for CBS Television Stations’ websites, and spent 20 years with CBS.

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