Increased habitual flavonoid intake predicts attenuation of cognitive ageing in twins

Amy Jennings, Claire J. Steves, Alexander Macgregor, Tim Spector, Aedín Cassidy

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Background: Although the pathophysiology of cognitive decline is multifactorial, and modifiable by lifestyle, the evidence for the role of diet on cognitive function is still accumulating, particularly the potentially preventive role of constituents of plant-based foods. Methods: We aimed to determine whether higher habitual intake of dietary flavonoids, key components of plant-based diets, were associated with improved cognition and medial temporal lobe volumes using three complementary approaches (longitudinal, cross-sectional and co-twin analyses). In 1126 female twins (n=224 with a 10-year follow-up of diet and cognition data) aged 18–89 years, habitual intakes of total flavonoids and seven subclasses (flavanones, anthocyanins, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, flavones, polymeric flavonoids (and proanthocyanidins separately)) were calculated using validated food frequency questionnaires. Cognition was assessed using the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery test. Hippocampal volumes were measured in a subset using magnetic resonance imaging (16 monozygotic-twin pairs). Statistical models were adjusted for a range of diet and lifestyle factors. Results: Higher intakes of flavanones (tertile (T)3-T1=0.45, 95%CI 0.13,0.77; p=0.01) and anthocyanins (T3-T1=0.45, 95%CI 0.08,0.81; p=0.02) were associated with improvements in age-related cognition score over 10 years. In cross-sectional analysis higher intake of flavanones (T3-T1= 0.12, 95% CI 0.02, 0.21; p=0.02) and proanthocyanidins (T3-T1= 0.13, 95% CI 0.02, 0.24; p=0.02) were associated with improved paired-associates learning. Higher intake of anthocyanins was significantly associated with improved executive function (T3-T1= −0.52, 95% CI 0.19, 0.84; p=0.001) and with faster simple reaction times (T3-T1= −18.1, 95% CI −35.4, −0.7; p=0.04). In co-twin analysis, those with higher anthocyanin (2.0%, p=0.01) and proanthocyanidin (2.0%, p=0.02) intakes at baseline had the largest left hippocampal volumes after 12 years. Conclusion: Small increases in habitual intake of flavonoid-rich foods (containing anthocyanins, flavanones and proanthocyanidins; equivalent to approximately two servings of oranges and blueberries per day) over long time periods have the potential to attenuate cognitive ageing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number185
JournalBMC Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021


  • Brain volume
  • Cognitive ageing
  • Diet
  • Flavonoids

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