Antioxidants for Memory

Antioxidantsfor Memory

Source:”Can Foods Forestall Aging.” Agricultural Research. U.S.D.A. February1999, p. 15-17

MaryP. Clarke, PhD Extension Specialist, Nutrition Education


Manyolder adults fear the loss of memory as much as any other disability. Nowscientists are investigating the possible relationship between what you eat andmemory loss.


Thisnew research reported by the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center onAging at Tufts University in Boston has been examining the antioxidant capacityof fruits and vegetables.


Someof their studies are test-tube ones designed to measure the total antioxidantactivity of fruits and vegetables. This Oxygen Radical Abhorrence Capacity (ORAC)measures the ability of foods, blood plasma, and other substances to combinewith oxygen free radicals and render them harmless. Antioxidants protect tissuesagainst oxygen damage from these free radicals. Oxidative damage is associatedwith aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.Recently, neuroscientist Jim Joseph at the Jean Mayer USDA lab on Aging thinksthat poorer brain function associated with aging and disorders likeAlzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases may also be a result of these freeradicals.


Fruitswith high levels–from most to lesser amounts–of antioxidants are prunes,raisins, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, plums, oranges,red grapes and cherries (ORAC value range: 5,770 for prunes down to 670 forcherries per 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fruit). The ORAC value of vegetables per100 grams ranges from 1,770 for kale down to 390 for eggplant. Vegetables listedin order are kale, spinach, brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoliflorets, beets, red bell pepper, onion, corn and ending with eggplant.


Whenfour groups of rats were compared, two groups were fed either spinach orstrawberry extract. A third group received vitamin E, and the fourth groupconsumed the unfortified diet. The scientists learned that spinach was the mostpotent protector of long-term memory and learning ability. The vitamin E dietwas less potent and the strawberry and unfortified diet did not prevent motor ormovement loss. Of course, animal research is not proof that the same thing istrue in humans, but it does suggest avenues for further research.

Another finding relates to what happenswhen humans are fed double the numbers of servings of fruits and vegetables,i.e. from 5 a day to 10 a day. These subjects increased their antioxidant valuesin blood plasma. Boosting such values as a result of eating more fruits andvegetables could potentially have important results in protecting mentalcapacity in older adults.