Berries are bursting with flavor and available year round, thanks to frozen selections. If strawberry shortcake, blueberry cobbler, and ripe red raspberries aren't enough, then maybe preventing Parkinson's disease will tempt you to increase your berry consumption.

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and led by the Department of Nutrition suggests that regular consumption of foods containing flavonoids (a nutrient compound found in specific fruits, vegetables, and teas), acts as an antioxidant protective factor against the development of Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease is a complex degenerative disease of the nervous system that affects movement.

Researchers studied more than 49,000 men and 80,000 women for 20 to 22 years.

Participants were given questionnaires and their answers were analyzed to predict the association between flavonoid intake and risks for developing Parkinson's disease. They also analyzed how much of the five flavonoid-rich foods they consumed: tea, berries, apples, red wine, and oranges.

Long-term data analysis showed that during the time of the study, 805 developed Parkinson's disease.

In men, the top 20 percent who consumed the most flavonoids were 40 percent less likely to develop the disease than the bottom 20 percent of men who consumed the least.

There was no correlation between overall flavonoid consumption in women and development of Parkinson's disease, but when researchers analyzed sub-classes of flavonoids, specifically anthocyanins, which are found in berries, they found a significant link.

Both men and women who regularly consumed berries had a lower risk of Parkinson's disease.

This was the first study of its kind to demonstrate the protective benefits of berries, but researchers have proven the benefits of antioxidants, like those contained in berries, to prevent other illnesses.

Antioxidants are also credited for slowing down the aging process. They reduce the damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules naturally formed during food metabolism and exercise. You can also be exposed to free radicals from environmental causes like cigarette smoke and pollution.

Free radicals can cause cell damage called oxidative stress, which is linked to many diseases including cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease. Antioxidants counteract oxidative stress.

Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and other berries are all excellent sources of flavonoids. They're also found in apples, apricots, pears, beans, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and parsley.

Make it a priority to increase your flavonoid and other antioxidant intake by consuming at least five servings of fresh fruits and veggies every day.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.




National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "Antioxidants"

American Academy of Neurology. "Eating Berries May Lower Risk of Parkinson's" Feb 13, 2011