New research published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, has uncovered a link between higher levels of three particular antioxidants in individuals and a lowered risk of developing dementia.
People with higher levels of the antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and beta-cryptoxanthin in their blood had a decreased risk of developing dementia later in life compared with those who had lower levels of these antioxidants.
The study involved 7,283 participants with a minimum age of 45 years when the study began. Each individual underwent a physical examination, blood tests for antioxidant levels and an interview to assess their overall health and wellbeing. Researchers followed them for an average of 16 years to see who went on to develop dementia.
Antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin can be found in leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and broccoli, while beta-cryptoxanthin can be found in tropical fruits such as oranges, papaya, persimmons and peaches.
Author of the study, May A Beydoun of the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore, Maryland commented: "Extending people's cognitive functioning is an important public health challenge. Antioxidants may help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can cause cell damage. Further studies are needed to test whether adding these antioxidants can help protect the brain from dementia.
"It's important to note that the effect of these antioxidants on the risk of dementia was reduced somewhat when we took into account other factors such as education, income and physical activity, so it's possible that those factors may help explain the relationship between antioxidant levels and dementia," she continued.
A key limitation of the study is the fact that antioxidants were based on a single measurement of blood, which might not reflect fluctuating levels over people’s lifetimes.
Despite its limitations, the study offers promising news regarding the risk of developing dementia and how it links to overall health and wellbeing earlier in life.
According to Alzheimer’s UK, there are 900,000 people in the UK living with dementia - a number which is projected to rise by 1.6 million by 2040. There is currently no cure for the neurodegenerative disease, but research is ongoing into how to prevent it from developing.