29 April 2019 - Drinking flavanone-rich citrus juice may support cognitive function

Studies have suggested biologically plausible mechanisms by which certain fruits and their juices, containing significant amounts of polyphenols including flavonoids, support a healthy brain.


Postulated benefits include improvements in cerebral blood flow (CBF) impacting on neuronal functioning, memory and learning capabilities, as well as neuronal protection and regeneration which impacts on the prevention on memory and cognitive decline during brain ageing (1, 2). Such effects are especially seen with the consumption of citrus fruits, blueberries, grapes and their juices (3). 

Two recent studies, published in the British Journal of Nutrition (4) and in Neurology (5), provide further evidence that there is a potential effect of regular consumption of 100% fruit juice on brain function. 

In the first study (4), dietary data collected since 1986 from 27,842 male participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study were analysed alongside two self-reported and validated questionnaires. The questionnaires, completed four years apart, were designed to capture early, small signs of cognitive decline. The researchers specifically investigated consumption of total and specific fruits, vegetables, and juices in relation to future subjective cognitive function (SCF). 

Results showed that the highest habitual intakes of total vegetables, total fruits, and pure fruit juices were significantly associated with lower odds of moderate or poor SCF. The most significant finding concerned orange juice consumers. Compared with those who reported drinking orange juice less than once per month, men who drank orange juice daily were 47% less likely to show signs of poor SCF after four years, suggesting that regular consumption of orange juice during middle and older age may have a protective effect in later life SCF.

The second study (5), a single-blind cross-over trial, examined the protective role of components of 100% citrus juice. Twenty-four healthy young adults consumed 500 mL of either a high-flavanone (70·5 mg) pure citrus juice (orange and grapefruit) or an energy-, and vitamin C- matched, zero-flavanone control drink. Subjects underwent cognitive testing at baseline and 2 hours after drink consumption. The results showed that the high-flavanone drink was associated with significantly improved performance on the Digit Symbol Substitution Test at 2 hours relative to baseline and the control drink. No effects were observed on any other behavioural cognitive tests.


Additionally, 16 more healthy young adults were included in a study of the effects of test drinks on CBF, using MRI, before and after consuming either the 100% juice or the control drink. The results showed that, after consuming the high-flavanone drink, there was significantly increased CBF, demonstrated by regional perfusion in the inferior and middle right frontal gyrus, compared with baseline and the control drink. In addition, the high-flavanone drink was associated with significantly improved performance in some, although not all, of the cognitive tests. 

The researchers concluded that: “These results demonstrate that consumption of flavanone-rich citrus juice in quantities commonly consumed can acutely enhance blood flow to the brain in healthy, young adults. However, further studies are required to establish a direct causal link between increased CBF and enhanced behavioural outcomes following citrus juice ingestion”.

The evidence from this acute study, and others on flavonoid-rich juices (6), adds to the hypothesis that flavonoid consumption can improve performance in some neuropsychological tests and deliver cognitive benefits. This may occur in part as a consequence of enhanced blood flow to specific regions of the brain in the immediate postprandial period. Furthermore, the cohort study suggests that these effects might have longer term implications for slowing the earliest signs of cognitive decline in older adults who consume 100% juice daily.

For more information, see: 

(1) Spencer JPE (2010) Beyond antioxidants: the cellular and molecular interactions of flavonoids and how these underpin their actions on the brain. Proc Nutr Soc 69, 244–260. 

(2) Kean RJ et al. (2015) Chronic consumption of flavanone-rich orange juice is associated with cognitive benefits: an 8-week randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial in healthy older adults. Am J Clin Nutr 101, 506–514. 

(3) Lamport DJ et al. (2012) The effects of flavonoid and other polyphenol consumption on cognitive performance: A systematic research review of human experimental and epidemiological studies. Nutr Aging 1: 5-25. 

(4) Lamport DJ et al. (2016) The effects of flavanone-rich citrus juice on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow: an acute, randomised, placebo controlled crossover trial in healthy young adults. Br J Nutr 116: 2160-2168. 

(5) Yuan C et al. (2019) Long-term intake of vegetables and fruits and subjective cognitive function in US men. Neurol 92: e63-e75. 

(6) Lamport DJ et al. (2016) Concord grape juice, cognitive function, and driving performance: a 12-wk, placebo-controlled, randomized crossover trial in mothers of preteen children. Am J Clin Nutr 103: 775-83.