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Antioxidant-rich Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Age-related Decline in Brain Function

A spinach salad and an apple a day can help keep loss of brain function away, the results of two new animal studies at the University of South Florida (USF) Center for Aging and the James A Haley Veteran's Hospital suggest. These studies, published in the July 2002 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, add to a growing body of evidence that fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants protect the brain from age-related declines in the ability to learn and remember.

Practical Tips

Here are a few of the World's Healthiest Foods quick serving ideas to help you reap the neuro-protective benefits of spinach and apples:

To learn more about these antioxidant-rich members of the World's Healthiest Foods, click spinach or apples

Want suggestions for ways to enjoy spinach and apples more frequently as part of your healthy way of eating? For a list of the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing either food, click on the Recipe Assistant, select spinach or apples on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all of the World's Healthiest Foods' recipes containing the food chosen will appear immediately below.

Research Summary

In the first of these two studies, Claire Cartford from USF showed that older rats fed a spinach-rich diet for six weeks learned to associate the sound of a bell tone with a subsequent puff of air, a conditioned response that normally slows with age in humans as well as rats. When the animals were sacrificed, it was found that levels of the proinflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor alpha and tumor necrosis factor beta, were much lower in the brains of those rats given spinach-enriched lab chow.

In the second experiment, for two weeks, three groups of older rats were fed diets supplemented with spirulina, apple and cucumber, foods that have high, moderate and low antioxidant or ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) activity respectively. Brain cell function, and brain levels of the proinflammatory cytokines TNF alpha and TNF beta, and malondialdehyde (MDA, a byproduct that signals oxidative damage) were measured in the aging rats. The group fed the high-ORAC spirulina-enriched diet and the group fed the moderate-ORAC diet (a daily ration of apple) showed improvements in brain cell function and had lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines and MDA. Those fed the low-ORAC cucumber-supplemented diet exhibited no improvement. Lead author of this study, Dr. Paula Bickford, said the encouraging results merit testing in humans. As the number of those in the population over 65 is steadily increasing, foods such as spinach and apples that can help prevent or slow neurodegenerative disorders are obviously of considerable interest.


Gemma C, Mesches M, Sepesi B, Choo K, Holmes D, Bickford P. Diets Enriched in Foods with High Antioxidant Activity Reverse Age-Induced Decreases in Cerebellar Beta-Adrenergic Function and Increases in Proinflammatory Cytokines. The Journal of Neuroscience, July 15, 2002, 22(14):6114-6120.

Cartford, MC, Gemma C, Bickford, P. Eighteen-Month-Old Fischer 344 Rats Fed a Spinach-Enriched Diet Show Improved Delay Classical Eyeblink Conditioning and Reduced Expression of Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFalpha) and TNF beta in the Cerebellum. The Journal of Neuroscience, July 15, 2002, 22(14):5813-5816.