Health – Flavonoids

The Greek physician and philosopher Hippocrates famously advised people to “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.” (This of course is the same physician/philosopher who gave us the Hippocratic Oath, the central theme of which is “First do no harm.”) Unfortunately, we have strayed from this good advice in modern times. Today, orthodox medicine is less about food as medicine and more about the rapid development of (often harmful) medications to treat symptoms. Rarely does conventional medicine actually address prevention or correction of the underlying health problem that is creating the symptoms.

We can get back to the Hippocratic philosophy of making food our medicine.

Flavonoids: Powerhouses of Prevention

A number of recent studies have shown that a class of compounds called flavonoids, which are found in commonly eaten plants, can not only slow the age-related degeneration of the brain, but can actually reverse it. (Lau, F.C., et. al., Subcell Biochem 2007; 42: 299-318; Barros, D., et. al., Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2006; 84: 299-234) These studies used blueberries in the form of a concentrated extract, which provides very high levels of the beneficial flavonoids, such as anthrocyanadins, that the fruit contains. You can buy this extract in most grocery stores.

Studies have shown that blueberries improved memory in older mice, including spatial memory, long-term reference memory, and object recognition memory. (Goyarzu, P., et. al., Nutr Neurosci 2004; 7: 75-83; Casadesus, G., et. al., Nutr Neurosci 2004; 7(5-6): 309-316)

Researchers have also found that feeding blueberry extracts to rodents greatly improved their ability to navigate mazes. (Williams, C.M., et. al., Free Rad Biol Med 2008; 45: 295-305)

In another series of studies, James Joseph and his co-workers at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston [Massachusetts] found that concentrated extracts of blueberries, spinach, and strawberries could prevent changes in the aging brains of animals.

These changes, such as calcium accumulation in synapses (the connections between brain cells) are also commonly seen in aging human brains. Blueberry extract had the most potent effect in correcting high synaptic calcium levels.

Accumulation of calcium in the area of the brain called the hippocampus (essential for learning, memory, and behavior) is another common finding in brain-aging studies. This calcium can interfere with memory and cause depression, as well as other behavioral changes. Therefore, a substance that can return hippocampus calcium levels to that of younger animals is a real breakthrough.

Another part of this study examined the cognitive function (thinking) of the animals that were fed these extracts. The researchers found significant improvement of learning ability in animals that were fed the plant extracts. In tests of the ability of the extracts to reduce oxidative stress in the animals’ brains, the researchers found that only the blueberry and strawberry extracts were effective.

Interestingly, these extracts increase vitamin E levels in the hippocampus, but not other parts of the brain. Aging is associated with a progressive increase of oxidative stress (free radical creation and lipid peroxidation) in the brain, especially in the hippocampus.

Of great importance was the finding that only the blueberry extract improved psychomotor function in the aged animals. This refers to skills that have been performed so often that you don’t have to consciously think about them to perform the action (such as tying your shoes).

This benefit would be particularly important for elderly people, because weakness and a loss of coordination are common ailments that make life difficult for seniors.

Besides acting as an antioxidant, these plant extracts improve the fluid-like quality of brain neurons, reduce brain inflammation, and reduce activation of microglia (the brain’s immune cells) and the release of brain-destructive chemicals from the microglia. (Lau, F.C., et. al., J Neurosci Res 2007; 85: 1010-1017)

One way blueberries repair the brain is by stimulating the production of the brain growth factors BDNF and IGF-1. These chemicals repair damaged brain cell connections and stimulate brain plasticity (growth of new circuits).

If we apply the animal study findings to humans, it would require three years of consuming these plant extracts to attain the same effects. That is why it is important to make these dietary changes now and not wait for a neurodegenerative disease to make its appearance.

Flavonoids Enhance Brain Performance

There are thousands of plant chemicals that have been shown to have beneficial health effects. Over 5,000 flavonoids alone have been identified.

Human studies have shown that people who eat a large daily portion of fruits and vegetables develop improved brain function and are significantly less likely to suffer brain degeneration as they age.

One fairly recent study, called the PAQUID Study, examined the flavonoid intake of 1,640 people age 65 or older and assessed their brain function using sophisticated tests, including the Mini-Mental State Exam, the Benton Visual Retention Test, and the Isaacs Set Test. (Letenneur, L., et. al., Am J Epidemiol 2007; 165: 1364-1371)

What is especially interesting about this study is that the researchers followed these subjects for 10 years and repeated the tests four times during this period. Most such studies follow test subjects for only a few years.

The study was adjusted for age, sex, and education level to rule out confounding factors. Those who ate the most flavonoid-containing foods had the best cognitive performance. Even more important, they had the highest level of evolution of performance — that is, an increasingly better performance on the tests over time.

This study provides us with powerful evidence that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can improve our ability to think and learn.

But one of the best sources of concentrated mixtures of flavonoids is fruits and vegetables themselves. I have often recommended consuming blenderized vegetables and selected fruits to get the most nutrients from the diet. It is absolutely critical to clean all vegetables thoroughly with a vegetable wash before blenderizing to remove pesticides and herbicides, as well as bacteria.

Contaminated plants have become a major cause of illness. Organically grown vegetables are best, as long as they are healthy and without spots and damaged areas. The most nutrient- dense vegetables and fruits include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, spinach, berries, celery, kale, and greens.

For more powerful health benefits, add blueberry concentrate, along with two cups of purified water and blenderize the vegetables. It’s best to use cold water to protect the vitamins in the vegetables.

One should drink 8 ounces of the mix once or twice a day. This provides a very high concentration of vitamins, fiber, and flavonoids in a highly absorbable form. In fact, the body absorbs only 20 to 30 percent of the flavonoids by eating raw fruits and vegetables, but 90 percent if you drink blenderized fruits and vegetables.

As for the omega-3 oils, I prefer taking pure DHA oils rather than a blend of high EPA and low DHA, as is found in many products. EPA is associated with increased bleeding, as well as disrupting diabetes and suppression of cell-mediated immunity.

Source: Excerpts from Blaylock Wellness Report, November 2011.