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Dementia Study Offers One More Reason to Eat More Kale



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Yeah, we’ve all heard it before — kale is a healthy superfood because it is high in vitamins and low in calories and carbohydrates.

But if that’s not enough to convince you to consume those dark leafy greens, consider this: Kale and other foods that are rich in flavonols just might help you stay more mentally alert and aware in your golden years.

And it’s not just kale. Foods that are rich in flavonols like broccoli, spinach, apples, nuts, beans, and tea are also on the dementia-fighting team.

That’s the conclusion of a research study recently published by the American Association of Neurology. The study’s chief is Dr. Thomas Monroe Holland of Rush University in Chicago, and Chicago is where Holland and his team studied 961 participants through the Rush Memory and Aging Project over an average of nearly seven years per person, monitoring their dietary habits and charting their mental acuity over time.

Admittedly, most of the study participants were Caucasian women who lived in Chicago residential communities. But even with a less-than-diverse population sample, the study’s duration over a number of years and its findings have caught the eye of neurologists like Dr. Loren Alving, a clinical professor of neurology and director of the UCSF Fresno Alzheimer’s and Memory Center.

“Many of these studies add a little bit to our knowledge,” she told GV Wire recently. But in this new study, “there’s a long-term follow-up, it’s in humans, and they kind of broke it down into the different types of flavonoids. So that’s where this study is new, newer than some of the information that’s been out there before.”

Alving said women typically predominate in such studies because they tend to live longer, and Caucasians are less hesitant about participating in such studies.

To make sure that study results can be applicable to all demographics, researchers need to double down on their efforts to recruit participants from other population subgroups, she said.

But even with a race- and gender-limited study group, the study results could provide impetus to people of all races and genders to double down on kale and other flavonol foods: “If people want to use that to adopt a healthy lifestyle, I think that’s a good idea,” Alving said.

How Do They Work?

So what is a flavonol? It’s a subclass of flavonoids, which are natural substances found in fruits, vegetables, grains, bark, roots, stems, flowers, tea and wine that have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic properties.

Why might flavonols be a weapon in the battle against dementia?

“Nobody knows the reason,” Alving said. “But the thought is that these are anti-oxidant compounds. I think we’ve all heard about that. And they can help the brain fight inflammation, which is not good for the brain.”

Flavonols might be more useful in staving off some dementias and forms of Alzheimer’s disease but not others, she said. And some people will develop mental cognition disorders even if they have had healthy diets their whole life.

Perhaps a third to half of all patients can stave off mental decline through diet, regular exercise, and other healthy lifestyle choices such as not smoking, Alving said.

“There’s plenty of things out there that we can’t do anything about it,” she said. “So we need to focus on those things that we can, and for people not to feel like somehow they brought it on themselves.”

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email

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