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Eating Flavonoid-Rich Foods May Help People With Parkinson's Live Longer

A pattern of raspberries and blackberries on a pink-purple background.

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Key Takeaways

  • Around 60,000 Americans are living with Parkinson's disease. The diagnosis can reduce a person's quality of life and may shorten their life.
  • A new study has shown that eating certain plant compounds may help reduce the risk of developing Parkinson's.
  • Flavonoid-containing foods like berries, red wine, true teas, and kale may also help patients with Parkinson's live longer.

Parkinson's disease is a brain disorder. It can cause shaking, stiffness, and trouble with walking, balance, and coordination. In the United States, about one million people are living with Parkinson's.

Having a diagnosis of Parkinson's reduces a person’s quality of life. People with Parkinson's are also more likely to die early compared to the general population.

Research has shown that certain dietary practices are linked to a lower risk of getting Parkinson's— specifically, eating more plant compounds called flavonoids. However, there has not been much research on whether dietary choices can help people with Parkinson's live longer.

According to a new study on the relationship between flavonoid intake and the risk of experiencing early death in people with Parkinson's, these compounds may have powerful benefits.

What Are Flavonoids?

Eating various colorful foods supports our health in many ways. While the spotlight frequently shines on the vitamins and minerals in these foods, a less known benefit comes from plant chemicals that are naturally found in almost all produce.

Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD

There is an exciting body of evidence forming which is highlighting the important role that these other components in foods—the non-nutrients—may have on our overall health

— Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD

These chemicals are called flavonoids. They are antioxidants, offer anti-inflammatory effects, and have other benefits, depending on the variety. There are six main types of flavonoids, but two of them really stand out: anthocyanins and isoflavones

“Flavonoids are found in a variety of foods and beverages commonly available to most, including berries, apples, citrus, grapes, green tea, and even foods such as nuts and spices like cinnamon,” Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD, Nutrition Scientist and VP, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, Applied Science & Nutrition, Mars Edge, told Verywell. "By focusing on a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, it is actually possible to incorporate a diverse mix of flavonoids in your everyday diet.” 

While we all can enjoy the benefits of flavonoids, new research has shown that the compounds might be even more beneficial for people living with Parkinson's. 

New Research Focuses on Longevity

For the new study, which was published in the journal Neurology, the researchers set out to determine if eating more flavonoids could extend the life of people living with Parkinson's.

Who Was Included?

The researchers used data from two large cohorts: the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

They looked at each person's dietary intake of flavonoids, which was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire over a 32- to 34-year span.

They also determined how many people had Parkinson's. In total, 599 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 652 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study were newly diagnosed with Parkinson's during the study period.

The Results

There were several key findings from the study, including that:

  • People with Parkinson's who consumed more flavonoids—especially anthocyanins and flavan-3-ols—had a lower risk of dying from any cause.
  • People in the top 25% of consumers of anthocyanins experienced a 66% greater chance of avoiding early death compared to the people with the lowest intakes.
  • People in the top 25% of consumers of flavan-3-ols had a 69% greater survival rate compared to the people with the lowest intakes.
  • A higher intake of flavonoid-rich food, especially berries and red wine, was also associated with a lower risk of experiencing early death.
  • In men, a higher total flavonoid intake before a diagnosis of Parkinson's was associated with a lower future risk for experiencing early death. However, the protective effect was not seen in the women in the study.

"[The study] adds to the body of literature that has been growing over the past 10-15 years which suggests that flavonoids, and specific subclasses of flavonoids, may have an important role to play in health," Kwik-Uribe, who was not associated with the study, said.

Two types of flavonoids stand out: anthocyanins and isoflavones.

 

How to Eat More Flavonoids

Whether or not you have Parkinson's or are at risk of developing it, you can benefit from adding more flavonoid-rich foods to your diet.

Specifically, you can get the health benefits of anthocyanins and flavon-3-ols by eating more purple foods like blueberries and purple potatoes.

Tea, citrus fruit/juices, berries, red wine, apples, and legumes are also good sources of these compounds.

To get more flavonoids overall, eating more colorful fruits and vegetables, true teas, and cocoa, can help you reach your goal.

Increasing Your Flavonoid Intake

Here are a few tips for increasing your flavonoid intake:

  • Start your day with a cup of green tea
  • Snack on berries for a sweet pick-me-up
  • Choose red wine (if you drink alcohol)
  • Top oatmeal and yogurt parfaits with sliced apples
  • Drink 100% orange juice
  • Make your meals "colorful" with a rainbow of fruits and veggies

For people with Parkinson's, making any dietary changes can be tricky. People with the diagnosis often have trouble swallowing or have a hard time with tasks like holding cutlery—both of which make eating some foods more difficult.

If you or a loved one has Parkinson's and wants to find safe ways to incorporate more flavonoid-rich foods into your diet, a registered dietitian can be a helpful resource.

What This Means For You

Including flavonoids in your diet has many health benefits. If you or a loved one is living with Parkinson's, flavonoid-rich foods could be even more beneficial.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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