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How Can Antioxidants Improve My Brain Health?

How Can Antioxidants Improve my Brain Health

Thanks to advancements in medicine and public health initiatives, we’re all living longer. It’s a truly brilliant feat. What we’re still trying to nail, though, is how to keep our grey matter sharp and savvy as we enter those golden years. Unlike treating visible signs of ageing – the wrinkles and fine lines – there’s no miracle serum we can massage onto our temples to keep our minds vital and youthful. The real secret to supporting your smarts starts with your diet. Alongside essential fatty acids and B vitamins, antioxidants serve as excellent mental floss. These potent powerhouses tackle cognitive decline in a host of ways. Now, here’s some real food for thought.

How do antioxidants support brain health?

As your brain ages, the nerve cells struggle to defend themselves against invading toxins called free radicals. While every cell in your body produces these unstable, rogue compounds, exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke and sunlight renders you more vulnerable to their pernicious ways. Left unchecked, free radicals wreak havoc with your cells (a process more scientifically termed ‘oxidative stress’), which contributes to mental decline and age-related degenerative conditions.

Thankfully, your body quickly readies its warriors – those trusty antioxidants – to protect itself against oxidative stress. These mighty compounds shield the body from the destruction and chaos that may ensue. However, to ensure the villains are well and truly stamped out, you need to up-the-ante on the diet and nutrition frontier. There are several antioxidants you should start eating in abundance: flavonoids, curcumin, vitamin E and lutein.

Flavonoids for memory

Your mother was right when she told you to eat up your fruits and veggies. These nourishing foods are chock-full of powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, that won’t only bolster your immune defences and give your complexion a rosy glow, but they will work wonders for your noggin, too. A growing raft of scientific research highlights these powerful compounds can be immensely beneficial for your memory.

In a study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, experts found older women who ate large quantities of berries – rich in flavonoids, or anthocyanidins more specifically – delayed their memory decline by two years, compared to women who weren’t as berry-madi. It’s not just berries that are teaming with flavonoids; you’ll be glad to learn some of your favourite beverages are brimming in the stuff, too.

Foods high in flavonoids

  • Berries: strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries

  • Leafy greens: kale, watercress, and spinach

  • Other colourful produce: avocados, red grapes, and butternut squash

  • Dark chocolate

  • Red wine

  • Coffee

Curcumin for mood and memory

Curcumin is the active compound found in the gorgeously golden root, turmeric. Research has linked this age-old spice to a smorgasbord of health benefits for your smarts. Thanks to curcumin’s impressive antioxidant credentials, it’s equipped to fight inflammation in the brain. Research has now linked inflammation in the brain to low mood and cognitive problemsii. In one study, three groups of patients suffering from depression were given curcumin, an antidepressant medication, or a combination of both. Patients who took both the antidepressant medication and curcumin experience the most relief from their low moodiii.

A study from The University of California, Los Angeles suggests curcumin can sharpen your recall, tooiv. Participants given curcumin saw a 28% improvement in their memory tests compared to the control group. Added bonus: this cohort experienced a slight boost in their mood, too, corroborating our above point about curcumin supporting emotional wellbeing. Experts believe curcumin can support memory by increasing blood flow to the brainv.

There are myriad ways to reap curcumin’s brain-boosting benefits. The secret is finding an excuse to add turmeric to any culinary creation. Combine warm milk, honey, cinnamon, and turmeric to create the voguish ‘turmeric latte’ or ‘golden milk’; toss warm chickpeas with coconut oil, turmeric, and chopped tomatoes; or add a teaspoon of turmeric to scrambled eggs. Pro cooking tip: for optimal absorption, always combine this pungent spice with its pal: a healthy fat source (milk, coconut oil, avocado or fish).

Vitamin E for fighting cognitive decline

Vitamin E is another antioxidant that kicks free radical ass and prevents cell damage in the brain. Researchers believe this potent compound can delay cognitive decline and support the reduction of age-related degenerative conditions. Inadequate amounts of this compound are thought to put humans at a significantly higher risk of cognitive declinevii.

Foods high in vitamin E

  • Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, and cashew nuts

  • Seeds: sunflowers seeds, pine nuts, and pumpkin seeds

  • Fruit: avocados, mangos, kiwi, blackberries, and apricots

  • Fish: salmon, rainbow trout, crayfish, and lobster

Lutein for faster and more efficient processing

In the past, lutein – an antioxidant found in a slew of colourful fruits and veggies – was typically known for its role in supporting eye health. But new research suggests it may keep your grey matter fighting fit, too. In a study from The University of Georgia, researchers assessed the impact of lutein on memory and mental clarity in studentsviii. Participants who were given lutein showcased a marked improvement in their ability to process information.

Foods high in lutein

  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard

  • Veggies: broccoli, courgette, Brussels sprouts, peas, celery, carrots, beetroot, and tomatoes

  • Fruit: oranges, melons, and grapefruit

  • Eggs


Bottom line

No – we can’t transform an ageing brain to its former youthful self, but we can protect its vitally important cells from degeneration, or worse, death. Besides implementing healthy lifestyle choices – exercising, getting plenty of rest, and going easy on the tipples – following a well-balanced, colourful and antioxidant-rich diet is one of the best ways to keep your mind sharp and those ‘senior moments’ to a minimum.


  1. EurekAlert!. Berries keep your brain sharp. Available online: [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018]

  2. , , , , , , , , , & So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicine, 11(1).

  3. , , , , , , & Efficacy and Safety of Curcumin in Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Phytotherapy Research, 28(4), 579-585.

  4. , , , , , , , , , , , , , , & Memory and Brain Amyloid and Tau Effects of a Bioavailable Form of Curcumin in Non-Demented Adults: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled 18-Month Trial. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 26(3), 266-277.

  5. Effect of Combined Treatment With Curcumin and Candesartan on Ischemic Brain Damage in Mice. Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, 20(6), 541-548.

  6. , et al. Novel function of vitamin E in regulation of zebrafish (Danio rerio) brain lysophospholipids discovered using lipidomics. Journal of Lipid Research.

  7. , et al. Novel function of vitamin E in regulation of zebrafish (Danio rerio) brain lysophospholipids discovered using lipidomics. Journal of Lipid Research.

  8. & A randomized placebo-controlled study on the effects of lutein and zeaxanthin on visual processing speed in young healthy subjects. Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 572, 54-57.


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Our Author - Olivia Slater


Olivia Salter has always been an avid health nut. After graduating from the University of Bristol, she began working for a nutritional consultancy where she discovered her passion for all things wellness-related. There, she executed much of the company’s content marketing strategy and found her niche in health writing, publishing articles in Women’s Health, Mind Body Green, Thrive and Psychologies.

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