The Potential Benefits of Flavonoids in Treating Neurodegenerative Diseases

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Plant-derived flavonoids, compounds that have multiple biological actions affecting various age-associated changes in the brain, have been hailed for their potential to assist in treating neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

Neurodegenerative conditions -- from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- currently affect at least 6 million people in the U.S. alone.[i]

Right now there is yet to be a solid treatment for slowing or blocking these disorders from developing or progressing further, but a review from June 2019 probed the impact of flavonoids, compounds that boast multiple biological activities, on age-related changes in the brain contributing to neurodegeneration.

The Flavonoid Factor

Several epidemiological studies highlight the potential benefits of flavonoids in preventing this group of disorders.[ii] There are more than 5,000 flavonoids and they can be divided into six groups, namely flavones, flavonols, flavanones, flavanols, anthocyanidins and isoflavones.

Flavonoids have historically been celebrated for their antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties. However, recent studies demonstrated their wide range of activities that could make them beneficial in blocking the age-related toxicity pathways linked to neurodegenerative diseases.[iii] Here are some findings from the review:

  • Alzheimer's disease -- Multiple flavonoids showed significant benefits in three distinct models of the condition, improving cognitive function and reducing markers of inflammation, oxidative stress and synaptic dysfunction, while increasing neurotrophic factor signaling.
  • Parkinson's disease -- A wide range of flavonoids displayed significant benefits in multiple models of the condition. Flavonoids reduced inflammation and oxidative stress markers while increasing markers of neurotrophic factor signaling. When combined, these effects helped to prevent nerve cell death and reduce behavioral deficits.
  • Other neurodegenerative diseases -- A number of different flavonoids offered benefits, specifically in preserving motor function in both chemical and transgenic models of Huntington's disease. While there were a few studies with flavonoids in ALS models, the results suggested further investigation is needed, especially as all the flavonoids providing benefits in the transgenic ALS model also had positive effects in other neurodegenerative conditions.

The results strongly support the thinking that common changes occurring in the aging brain underlie the development of neurodegenerative conditions, and compounds that can successfully address these changes maintain "the best chance of clinical success," according to the review's author, Pamela Maher with the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California.[iv]

Flavonoids can be derived from your diet via berries and other fruits, vegetables, cocoa and chocolate, legumes and beverages such as wine and tea.[v]

Neurodegeneration in Focus

The umbrella term neurodegeneration covers a range of conditions mainly wreaking havoc on the neurons in the human brain.[vi] Hundreds of disorders of this kind are known, but most of the attention has focused on Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's disease and ALS even while others such as frontotemporal dementia are also prevalent.[vii]

This group of diseases are currently incurable, debilitating and result in progressive degeneration or the death of nerve cells, leading to movement or mental functioning issues. Dementias make up the greatest burden of neurodegenerative disease,[viii] with Alzheimer's representing some 60% to 70% of existing dementia cases.[ix]

The changes occurring in the aging brain and identified as potential contributors to neurodegenerative conditions include increased oxidative stress, changes in energy metabolism, loss of neurotrophic support, changes in protein processing leading to accumulated protein aggregates, neurovascular dysfunction and immune system activation, among others.[x],[xi]

You can find out more about the neurodegeneration and flavonoid connection through the more than 700 abstracts with flavonoid research and at least 2,300 abstracts with neurodegenerative disease research on


[x] Prior M et al "Back to the future with phenotypic screening" ACS Chem Neurosci. 2014 Jul 16; 5(7):503-13.

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