Diets rich in flavonoids, such as those found in berries, may protect men against Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Norwich Medical School saw no similar effect for women.
Flavonoids are naturally occurring compounds found in berries, tea, dark chocolate and red wine. Previous studies have shown that flavonoids can lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. These powerful antioxidants have also been linked to a lower risk of certain diseases, like heart disease, cancer, and dementia.
The current study, published in Neurology, looked at the lifestyle behaviors—such as diet—and health outcomes of 130,000 men and women over the course of 20 to 22 years. Men who ate the most flavonoids had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s when compared to those who ate the least.
Researchers were surprised that there was no similar reduction in women, although other compounds—such as caffeine—also have a protective effect against Parkinson’s only for men.
One group of flavonoids—the anthocyanins—were particularly effective. These can be found in blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries, as well as vegetables such as eggplants.
The study doesn’t prove that flavonoids can prevent Parkinson’s, only that there is a connection between eating berries and a lower risk of the disease. Still, given the large amount of antioxidants found in berries, why not load up your plate this summer with freshly picked berries.