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Antioxidant-rich diets improve age-related declines in mental function of rats, USF/VA studies find

Tampa, FL (July 15, 2002) Popeye was right eat your spinach. In fact, add some fresh-cut apples to that spinach salad.

Two new animal studies by researchers at the University of South Florida Center for Aging and Brain Repair and James A. Haley Veterans Hospital bolster a growing body of evidence that certain fruits and vegetables may protect the brain against the ravages of age. The complementary research papers appear in today's issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

"If these pre-clinical findings translate to humans, it suggests that eating a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may help reverse declines in learning and memory as you get older," Paula Bickford, PhD, lead author of both studies and a professor at the USF Center for Aging and Brain Repair.

In the first study, co-authored by USF's M. Claire Cartford, PhD, older rats fed a diet rich in spinach for six weeks showed a reversal in the normal loss of learning that occurs with age. The rats that ate rat chow containing 2 percent freeze-dried spinach learned to associate the sound of a bell tone with a subsequent puff of air faster than those fed regular rat chow, the study found.

The test measured how quickly the rats learned to blink, after hearing the tone, in anticipation of the oncoming puff of air a conditioned response shown to slow with age in rodents and humans.

Spinach is rich in antioxidants, which scientists say can counteract free radicals generated in the body during normal metabolism and exposure to environmental insults such as pollution, ultraviolet light and radiation. An excess of free radicals can damage cellular lipids, protein and DNA. Studies suggest that a lifelong accumulation of free radicals can slow mental processes in old age and may be a factor in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, Dr. Bickford said.

The second study, co-authored by Carmelina Gemma, PhD, of USF and James A. Haley VA Hospital, found that
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Contact: Anne DeLotto Baier
abaier@hsc.usf.edu
813-974-3300
University of South Florida Health
15-Jul-2002


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