LMU 164 – Unlocking the Secret to Brain Health: The Flavonoid-Melatonin Connection
Source: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (May 2020) and the American Journal of Neurodegenerative Disease (Nov 2012)
Lifestyle Medicine Update (May 22, 2020)
The Power of a Berry-Infused Diet
In May 2020, a remarkable study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition illuminated a path to preserving our most precious asset – our cognitive health. This groundbreaking research, spanning two decades and involving over 2800 individuals aged 50 and above, unveiled a compelling link between dietary choices and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias .
The Flavonoid Connection
The key to this revelation lies in flavonoids – natural compounds found abundantly in certain foods and beverages, including berries, apples, and tea. Astonishingly, the study uncovered a striking correlation: individuals with low flavonoid intake were more susceptible to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias compared to those who incorporated these flavonoid-rich items into their diets.
The Magic of a Cup of Tea and a Handful of Berries
Researchers shed light on the simplicity of this protective mechanism. Consuming as little as a cup of tea a day or indulging in a handful of berries two or three times a week could significantly reduce the risk of cognitive decline. This revelation offers a glimmer of hope, even for those approaching or crossing the threshold of 50. It’s never too late to embrace dietary changes that can safeguard our cognitive faculties in the years ahead.
The Flavonoid Shield Against Alzheimer’s
The question arises: how do flavonoids, found in everyday foods and beverages, hold the power to reduce Alzheimer’s risk? The answer, it seems, is rooted in remarkable science.
- Flavonoids and Beta-Amyloid Plaque
Studies on animals have revealed that various flavonoids, including the catechins abundant in black and green tea, possess the ability to inhibit the production of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain. Beta-amyloid plaque is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease, clogging the neural pathways and contributing to cognitive decline. Flavonoids appear to counteract this destructive process, offering a potential shield against the disease.
- Flavonoids as Antioxidants
In addition to their anti-plaque properties, many flavonoids boast potent antioxidant capabilities. These antioxidants function as guardians of the brain, fighting oxidative stress and slowing the aging of brain cells. By doing so, flavonoids may help preserve cognitive function as we age.
The Role of Melatonin in Cognitive Health
As we delve deeper into the realm of brain health, another guardian emerges – melatonin. This hormone, known for its role in regulating sleep patterns, plays a vital role in safeguarding our cognitive faculties.
- Melatonin’s Dual Role
Melatonin is more than just a sleep aid. It acts as a potent brain antioxidant, defending against the ravages of time and oxidative stress. This hormone is crucial in inhibiting the synthesis of beta-amyloid plaque, akin to the protective action of flavonoids. Notably, melatonin levels drop significantly by the time we reach our 40s and 50s.
- The Protective Potential of Melatonin
Studies have shown that melatonin supplementation can not only reverse mild cognitive impairment in a substantial number of patients but also prevent its progression to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. Human intervention studies have demonstrated this remarkable outcome, raising hopes for a safe and effective strategy to preserve cognitive health.
The Multi-Faceted Approach to Brain Health
While flavonoids and melatonin hold promise as guardians of cognitive health, they are just one piece of the puzzle. A comprehensive approach to brain health encompasses various facets of life.
- Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Key factors like abstaining from smoking, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and preventing type 2 diabetes contribute significantly to lower dementia and Alzheimer’s risk.
- Mind Stimulation: Keeping the mind engaged through continuous learning, puzzles, and social interactions can bolster cognitive resilience.
- Nutrition: Incorporating flavonoid-rich foods like apples, pears, berries (such as blueberries and strawberries), and green tea (or black tea) can offer significant cognitive benefits.
- Melatonin Supplementation: For those over 40-50, considering 1-5 mg of melatonin one hour before bedtime under the guidance of a healthcare professional may be a wise choice.
The Journey to Cognitive Resilience
As we navigate the complexities of preserving cognitive health, the synergy of flavonoids and melatonin presents a compelling opportunity. These unassuming yet powerful compounds, found in everyday foods and beverages, offer a beacon of hope in the fight against Alzheimer’s and related dementias.
While further research is necessary to unlock the full potential of these natural guardians, the evidence thus far is nothing short of impressive. As we journey forward, let us embrace the wisdom of a healthier lifestyle and the nourishment of flavonoid-rich foods, all while considering the protective benefits of melatonin. In the pursuit of cognitive resilience, knowledge is our guiding light.
- Paul F Jacques, Rhoda Au, Jeffrey B Blumberg, Gail T Rogers, Esra Shishtar. Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020. [Link](https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/advance-article/doi/10.1093/ajcn/nqaa079/5823790)
- “Flavonoids in the Diet: Could they help prevent Alzheimer’s disease” – Society Against Dementia. Lead Investigator Dr. Robert Williams (University of Bath): [Link](https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/research/our-research/research-projects/flavonoids-diet-could-they-help-prevent-alzheimers-disease)
- Cardinali DP, Vigo DE, Olivar N et al. Therapeutic application of melatonin in mild cognitive impairment. Am J Neurodegen Dis. 2012; 1(3): 280-291 [Link](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3560473/)
According to one researcher, a cup of tea a day or some berries two or three times a week would be adequate (and protective). Another study researcher explained that even starting at age 50 it’s not too late to make positive dietary changes that can ward off the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in the years ahead. As he states, “the take-home message is, when you are approaching 50 or just beyond, you should start thinking about a healthier diet if you haven’t already. “
So, how might flavonoids in these foods and beverages reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease? Animal studies show that various flavonoids, including the catechins found in black tea, and which are especially high in green tea, inhibit the production of beta-amyloid plaque in the brain, which is a hallmark feature of Alzheimer’s disease. Many flavonoids also have powerful antioxidant properties, which may also slow brain aging. In addition to flavonoids, research continues to emerge showing the protective effects of melatonin on the brain as we age. We know that melatonin hormone secretion declines quite significantly by the time we are 40-50 years of age. Melatonin is not only important for sleep quality, but it acts as a brain antioxidant, and like flavonoids, it has been shown in experimental studies to inhibit the synthesis of beta-amyloid plaque – a consistent feature of the Alzheimer’s disease brain. Melatonin levels are known to be especially low in Alzheimer’s patients. In recent years studies have shown that melatonin supplementation can reverse mild cognitive impairment in a significant number of patients and prevent its progression to full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. Several human intervention studies have now shown this important outcome.
There are a number of nutrition and lifestyle strategies associated with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, such as not smoking, getting regular exercise, staying at or near your ideal body weight and avoiding the development of type 2 diabetes, avoiding head injuries and concussions, keeping your mind active through continued learning, staying engaged socially and so on. However, the evidence to support the regular ingestion of flavonoid-rich foods, such as apples, pears, berries (blueberries and strawberries) and green tea (or black tea) has become very impressive, as has the consideration of taking 1-5 mg of melatonin one hour before bedtime each night after the age 40-50. Always check with your physician before introducing a new supplement to your wellness program, but melatonin has demonstrated a very good safety profile, which is quite reassuring as you seek approval for its daily inclusion in a wellness program.
I’ve included the scientific references for this information in the text below.
1. Paul F Jacques, Rhoda Au, Jeffrey B Blumberg, Gail T Rogers, Esra Shishtar. Long-term dietary flavonoid intake and risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2020.
2. Flavonoids in the Diet: Could they help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Society Against Dementia. Lead Investigator Dr. Robert Williams (University of Bath):
3. Cardinali DP, Vigo DE, Olivar N et al. Therapeutic application of melatonin in mild cognitive impairment. Am J Neurodegen Dis. 2012; 1(3): 280-291
Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.