Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Flavonoid-rich diets associated with better brain health

Flavonoid-rich diets associated with better brain health

From the Here's more health news you can use: series
  • Updated
  • 0

A variety of fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids.

Q: Of the nutrients in plant foods, it seems like flavonoids might be special regarding brain health. What do we know?

A: Science already touts heart-health benefits of plant-based diets like the Mediterranean, MIND and DASH diets. Researchers are discovering how plant-based eating also may an important role in cognitive fitness and perhaps help prevent dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

And one class of nutrients in plants continues to stand out: flavonoids. They have six subclasses: anthocyanidins, flavan-3-ols, flavanones, flavones, flavonols, and polymers. A variety of fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids. Some of the highest amounts are in berries, apples, citrus fruit (oranges, lemons), grapes, spinach, legumes, kale, broccoli, soybeans, onions, tea, cocoa, and wine. Some foods contain only one subclass of flavonoids, while others have several.

Researchers believe flavonoids may help the brain in several ways. For instance, studies suggest they reduce cell-damaging free radicals and soothe inflammation. Some early-stage animal studies have shown that flavonoids can block beta-amyloid plaque buildup in the brain, a trademark of Alzheimer’s.

Flavonoids also may enhance brain blood flow. Some studies found flavonoid intake is inversely related to cardiovascular disease, and what is good for the cardiovascular system is also good for the brain.

Large human studies of flavonoids are still in their early phases, but initial findings show promise. One of the most substantial to date was a recent study linking high flavonoid intake and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and related dementias (conditions with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s). The results were published online April 22, 2020, by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Using data from the Framingham Heart Study, researchers looked at the dietary habits of almost 3,000 people, average age 59, without any signs of dementia. Over 20 years, people with the highest daily intake of flavonoids (about 297 milligrams) had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s or a related dementia than those who ate the smallest amounts (about 123 milligrams).

Still, the link between flavonoids and brain health might be a matter of coincidence. It may take a team effort from all kinds of nutrients, but flavonoids may be one of the main players.

How much is enough? There is no definite recommended daily intake for flavonoids. Three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruits a day is the commonly suggested goal. The more colors and types of food you can put on your plate for every meal, the better. That should be a good start to give you the flavonoids your body — and brain — may need.

(Howard LeWine, M.D., is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. For additional consumer health information, please visit

Build your health & fitness knowledge

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Congress is back in session with a short time to finish a long to-do list, including keeping the government operating and paying its bills. Hanging in the balance is President Joe Biden’s entire domestic agenda, including major changes proposed for Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, the new Texas abortion law that bans the procedure early in pregnancy is prompting action in Washington. Joanne Kenen of Politico, Mary Ellen McIntire of CQ Roll Call and Sarah Karlin-Smith of the Pink Sheet join KHN’s Julie Rovner to discuss these issues and more. Also, Rovner interviews former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb about his new book on the covid-19 pandemic.

The best local coverage, unlimited

Sign up for a digital subscription to The Press of Atlantic City now and take advantage of a great offer.


Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News