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Ladies: Flavonoid-Up Your Diet for Healthy Aging

Women in midlife can raise their chances of staying healthy past 70 by increasing their intake of foods rich in flavonoids, says new research from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Flavonoids are plant-based compounds with powerful antioxidant properties and are found in many fruits and vegetables (berries, grapes, oranges, onions, celery, to name just a few). Dietary flavonoids have been linked to lower risk of various chronic diseases, but prior to this study, researchers were unclear whether flavonoid intake in midlife could help to maintain good health and well-being in later years.

The study, published online in the
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (October 29, 2014; doi: 10.3945/
ajcn.114.085605), included 13,818 women from the Nurses’ Health Study; the women were all in their late 50s with no major chronic disease. Follow-up questionnaires 15 years after the study tracked intakes of six major flavonoid subclasses during midlife.

A total of 1,517 (11%) women met the criteria for healthy aging. The researchers defined healthy aging as survival to ≥70 years with no major chronic diseases or major impairments in cognitive or physical function or mental health. Women whose flavonoid intakes at midlife fell in the highest 20% had a greater likelihood of healthy aging than women in the lowest 20%.

Specifically, women with the highest intakes of flavones, flavanones, anthocyanins and flavonols had greater odds of healthy aging than those with the lowest intakes, according to the study abstract. In a separate analysis of each component of healthy aging, higher flavone and flavanone intakes were significantly associated with better mental health and physical function.

“The results of this study indicate that a higher intake of flavonoids at midlife, specifically flavones (parsley, celery, citrus peels); flavanones (oranges, orange juice); anthocyanins (berries); and flavanols (onions, broccoli) are associated with greater odds of health and wellbeing in adults surviving to older ages,” concluded the authors.

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