If you aren’t convinced by now that berries rank high among the anointed superfoods, researchers just added another reason to believe. In addition to being credited with reducing certain kinds of cancers, sharpening memory and improving vision, strawberries, blueberries and their berry cousins are now being linked to decreasing your chances of developing Parkinson’s disease, say scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The key is in the flavonoids: antioxidant chemicals found in plants and fruits—and found in higher concentrations in berries as well as citrus, chocolate, red wine and tea.

Study author Xiang Gao, MD, PhD, and colleagues tracked almost 50,000 men and more than 80,000 women for a couple of decades and monitored their flavonoid intake.

Subjects filled out questionnaires on the types of foods they consumed. Researchers calculated the amount of flavonoids eaten by each volunteer and then analyzed the association between flavonoid consumption and risk for Parkinson’s. They also analyzed consumption of five major sources of foods rich in flavonoids: tea, berries, apples, red wine and oranges or orange juice. The participants were followed for 20–22 years.

During that time, 805 people developed Parkinson’s disease. In men, the top 20% who consumed the most flavonoids were about 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than the bottom 20% who consumed the least amount of flavonoids. In women, there was no relationship between overall flavonoid consumption and developing Parkinson’s disease. However, when subclasses of flavonoids were examined, regular consumption of anthocyanins, which are mainly obtained from berries, were found to be associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease in both men and women.

“This is the first study in humans to examine the association between flavonoids and risk of developing Parkinson’s disease,” Gao said in a press release issued by the American Academy of Neurology. “Our findings suggest that flavonoids, specifically a group called anthocyanins, may have neuroprotective effects. If confirmed, flavonoids may be a natural and healthy way to reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.”
The study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April.