The effects of flavonoids on cognitive and mental health

Background

Diet represents one of the most important lifestyle factors and can strongly influence the incidence and onset of cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases, and thus a healthy diet is an essential factor for healthy ageing. Various phytochemical constituents of certain foods and beverages, in particular a class of compounds called flavonoids, have been avidly investigated in recent years.

Dietary intervention studies in humans and animals, in particular those using foods and beverages derived from Vitis vinifera (grape), Camellia sinensis (tea), Theobroma cacao (cocoa) and Vaccinium spp (blueberry) have demonstrated beneficial effects on vascular and cognitive function. While such foods and beverages differ greatly in chemical composition, macro- and micronutrient content and caloric load per serving, they have in common that they are amongst the major dietary sources for anthocyanins, flavanones and flavanols, three specific flavonoid sub-classes.

In recent years, a large body of evidence has emerged from human intervention studies demonstrating that the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods is associated with improvements in cognitive function (see reviews Williams & Spencer, 2012; Lamport et al. 2012; Macready et al, 2010).

Objectives

Research carried out through extensive randomised control trials in healthy adults and children examined how different flavonoids impact on cognitive and mental health.

Outcomes and Impact

University of Reading academics and researchers have worked in collaboration with a number of partner organisations over recent years to explore the effects of flavonoids on cognitive and mental health. These partners include NATUREX-DBS (http://www.naturex-dbs.com/), Constellation Brands (http://www.cbrands.com/home) and the Wild Blueberry Association of North America (https://www.wildblueberries.com/).

This collaborative research has shown that flavonoids (cocoa flavanols, citrus flavanones and blueberry anthocyanins) exert positive effects on executive functioning and memory in both healthy adults (Kean et al, 2015; Saunders et al, in press) and children (Whyte & Williams, 2015; Whyte et al, 2015).

Thus, dietary interventions rich in flavonoids may represent a plausible, and publically acceptable, route for the maintenance of cognitive function throughout the day and amelioration of age-related cognitive decline.

Key staff

Claire Williams, Chair of Neuroscience, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences
Jeremy Spencer, Professor of Food and Nutritional Sciences, School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy
Daniel Lamport, Lecturer, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences
Laurie Butler, Professor of Cognitive Psychology, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences
Shirley Reynolds, Professor of Evidence Based Psychological Therapy and Director of the Charlie Waller Institute, School of Psychology & Clinical Language Sciences

Related Publications

Khalid S, Barfoot KL, May G, Lamport DJ, Reynolds SA & Williams CM (2017). Effects of Acute Blueberry Flavonoids on Mood in Children and Young Adults. Nutrients, 9, 158

Lamport DJ, Pal D, Macready AL, Barbosa-Boucas S, Fletcher JM, Williams CM, Spencer JPE & Butler LT (2016). The effects of flavanone-rich citrus juice on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow: an acute, randomised, placebo controlled crossover trial in healthy young adults. British Journal of Nutrition, 116: 2160-2168

Neshatdoust S, Saunders C, Castle SM, Vauzour D, Williams CM, Butler LT, Lovegrove JA & Spencer JPE (2016). High-flavonoid intake induces cognitive improvements linked to changes in plasma brain-derived neurotrophic factor: two randomized controlled trials. Nutrition & Healthy Ageing, DOI 10.3233/NHA-1615

Lamport DJ, Pal D, Moutsiana C, Field DT, Williams CM, Spencer JPE & Butler LT (2015). The effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on cerebral perfusion in older adults during conscious resting state. Psychopharmacology, 232(17): 3227-3234

Kean RJ, Lamport DJ, Dodd GF, Freeman JE, Williams CM, Ellis JA, Butler LT & Spencer JPE (2015). Chronic consumption of flavanone-rich orange juice is associated with cognitive benefits: an 8-week randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial in healthy older adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(3): 506-514