About 10 to 15 percent of older adults experience frailty, a geriatric syndrome leading to a greater risk of falls, fractures, disability, hospitalization, and mortality. While current dietary recommendations to prevent frailty in the elderly mainly focus on protein intake, other food options may also have significant health benefits.
For instance, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming plant-based foods containing dietary compounds called flavonols may also lower the chances of developing frailty. In particular, fruits such as apples or blackberries which contain a type of flavonoids called quercetin were found to be among the most promising dietary options for preventing frailty.
To determine the association between flavonoid intake and frailty onset, the experts used data from the Framingham Heart Study – Offspring Cohort on 1,701 individuals who were free of frailty at baseline.
The participants were followed for a period of 12 years to evaluate their frailty status through the Fried Frailty Phenotype, a method using five criteria (unintentional weight loss, weakness or poor handgrip strength, self-reported exhaustion, slow walking speed, and low physical activity). During this period, 13.2 percent of the participants developed frailty.
While flavonoid intake was not significantly associated with frailty onset, consumption of flavonoid-based diet (particularly quercetin) was linked to lower odds of frailty onset.
“There may be some validity to the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor (or frailty) away. Our findings suggest that for every 10 mg higher intake of flavonols per day, the odds of frailty were reduced by 20 percent. Individuals can easily consume 10 mg of flavonols intake per day since one medium sized apple has about 10 mg of flavonols,” the authors explained.
“Although there was no significant association between total flavonoid intake and frailty, higher flavonols intake (one of the subclasses of flavonoids) was associated with lower odds of developing frailty. Specifically, higher quercetin intake was the flavonoid that had the strongest association with frailty prevention. This data suggests that there may be particular subclasses of flavonoids that have the most potential as a dietary strategy for frailty prevention,” added senior author Shivani Sahni, an associated professor of Medicine at Harvard University.
However, further research that incorporates a more racially and ethnically diverse cohort of participants to clarify the potential of dietary interventions of flavonols for the treatment of frailty.
Flavanols are a type of flavonoid, which are a diverse group of phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Along with carotenoids, they are responsible for the vivid colors in fruits and vegetables.
Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Some of the most notable sources of flavanols include tea (both green and black), apples, grapes, red wine, and cocoa.
The potential health benefits of flavanols have been investigated in various studies. Some of these potential benefits include:
Flavanols can help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the heart and brain. They do this by increasing the production of nitric oxide in the body, which can help dilate blood vessels and reduce clotting.
Flavanols have strong antioxidant properties, which means they can help protect the body’s cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals.
Some studies have suggested that flavanols might help improve brain function, potentially slowing the progression of dementia and other cognitive disorders.
Flavanols may have anti-inflammatory properties, which could help with conditions like arthritis.
Although more research is needed, some studies suggest flavanols may have cancer-fighting properties.
Some research suggests that flavanols can improve insulin sensitivity and help control blood sugar levels, which could be beneficial for people with diabetes.
It’s important to note that while these benefits have been linked to flavanols in some studies, more research is needed to fully understand the extent of these effects and the optimal amounts of flavanols to consume.