Citrus for brain health?

Citrus for brain health?

Every week I’m learning more about the impacts of food and lifestyle decisions on our bodies, our cells, and how we show up in the world. When I learn new things, I love to share it with my Agent Army. And what I’ve learned recently? In addition to citrus polyphenols and citrus fruits now being well known for antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties and also being helpful for anti-aging, they are now thought to be insanely powerful for our brains! New studies are showing that they actively protect brain tissue from damage and degeneration, positively impact the blood-brain barrier function and integrity, and can also positively interfere with the traditional process of aging that happens in the brain. Win, win, win. 

This powerful study was completed in the UK at a University called the University of East Anglia and published in 2021, so just last year. The research team went through tons of studies (100+) to look at the impact of flavonoids from citrus fruits on nerves and brain cells. They examined all available evidence that has been completed to date on this topic, and having reviewed it all; the team concluded that they are ‘most confident’ in their findings that ‘citrus bioactive compounds improve general cognition, both in healthy populations and for people with age-related cognitive decline’. 

A lot of the evidence they went through concerned age-related cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s / dementia and general age-related cognitive decline, where the earliest signs are damage to brain and nerve cells. 

The doctors in the studies noted that some of the evidence in their research contributes to the belief that these citrus fruits might directly reduce the risk of these diseases- but more research is required.

So, how might this work?

As well as being packed full of essential micronutrients like Vitamin C that are great for the body, citrus fruits are a really rich source of non-essential bioactive compounds, including flavanones (from the flavonoid group). Preclinical studies have shown the ‘neuroprotective potential of citrus flavonoids,’ and this neuroprotective property is why people are getting excited about citrus fruits. But, what does neuroprotective *actually* mean?

Something being neuroprotective means that it reduces the oxidative stress of the brain and actually acts to protect nerves against damage and degeneration that can impair function and how they work.

These flavonoids are thought to be neuroprotective because they also are believed to:

  • Protect neurons from injury induced by neurotoxins (i.e. cellular injury from heavy metals, botox, alcohol, etc);
  • Suppress inflammation in the body and brain;
  • Promote memory; and
  • Promote learning and cognitive function.

So, should I be grabbing for the citrus fruits or for the juice?

Good question!

The research has also looked into whether fruit or juice is more powerful in delivering these potentially neuroprotective benefits; but there is no clear answer on this at the moment.

The current clinical trials have focused on 100% orange juice but also explored adding fiber. Adding fiber back into the juice didn’t change the results - despite scientists initially thinking that this fiber might act as a barrier in the gut, making the absorption of polyphenols more effective in juice than in the complete fruit.

More information and research is required but for now the 2021 study confirmed that both ‘both whole citrus fruits and their juices are thought to have a role to play in supporting brain health and cognitive function’.

What does this mean? It means that citrus fruits - both whole and as juice, should be incorporated into your diet for a potentially powerful neurological benefit.

Other studies support this school of thought too. A 2017 PubMed peer-reviewed study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that older people who eat citrus fruit frequently were 23 percent less likely to get dementia. The study looked at 13,000 Japanese adults nearing ‘old age’ and found that eating citrus fruits almost every day was the key to brain health, outperforming those who did not eat citrus fruits regularly at a six-year follow-up.  

So, more research is needed and required but as a starting point? It looks like citrus fruits could be incredibly powerful in terms of priming our brain for later in life.

According to the USDA, citrus fruits include:

  • Oranges
  • Clementines
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemons
  • Lines
  • Tangerines
  • Kumquats; and
  • Pomelos 

So, next time you go shopping? Go grab those citrus fruits. Your brain will thank you later.



Jena x