Antioxidants & The Brain
One study found that taking beta-carotene, an antioxidant from carrots, over 15 years led to more brain power as measured by cognitive testing. Another found people who had more vitamin E, commonly found in fruits and nuts, also performed better on intelligence testing.
Professionally Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

Background:

All About Antioxidants
Key Facts
Examples
Antioxidants
Key Facts
How they work

Antioxidants prevent cell damage by counteracting free radicals.

Effect on Disease

Research on Antioxidants and disease prevention has shown mixed results.

Common Sources

Chocolate

Berries & Fruit

Coffee

Antioxidants
Examples
beta-carotene

Your body makes vitamin A with beta-carotene, commonly found in carrots.

Vitamin C

Found in all sorts of fruits, Vitamin C is a very commonly consumed antioxidant.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E can be found in nuts and seeds.

TL;DR

Antioxidants & the brain
1. Long Term Antioxidant Use May Show Benefits
One study found that taking beta-carotene, an antioxidant from carrots, over 15 years led to more "brain power" as measured by cognitive testing.
2. More Vitamin E = More Intelligence?
A recent study found people who had more vitamin E, commonly found in fruits and nuts, also performed better on intelligence testing.
3. More Study is Needed
We need more research before we know for sure whether antioxidants can boost the brain. The research on antioxidants is still thin, and inconsistent. Some studies have shown negative results, particularly with short term dosing.

Study 1

Long Term Antioxidants & Brain Power
A trial showed that those who were given antioxidants over 18 years had more "brain power" than those who weren't. Scientists measured this through cognitive testing. But, short term antioxidant use, over 5 years, did not show benefits.

Data Source

"As expected, results appeared strongest with long-term supplementation. While treatment with beta carotene for 3 years or less had no impact on cognitive performance, at least 15 years' treatment provided significant benefits consistently across several cognitive measures. In this generally healthy population, the extent of protection conferred by long-term treatment appeared modest; nonetheless, studies have established that very modest differences in cognition, especially verbal memory, predict substantial differences in eventual risk of dementia"

Source: A Randomized Trial of Beta Carotene Supplementation and Cognitive Function in Men

Study 2:

Antioxidant Levels vs. Brain Power
Researchers found that people with higher levels of Vitamin E in their blood tended to perform better on memory and verbal tests.
Vitamin E & Memory

High Vitamin E was associated with better memory and verbal skills. Those with one standard deviation more of Vitamin E scored higher on immediate recall (β=+0.64±0.19, p=0.001) and had better verbal fluency. (β=+0.53±0.16, p=0.001)

Our Take
This study shows an interesting relationship between the amount of Vitamin E in your blood and your brain's performance on Cognitive Testing. However, this study doesn't necessarily show that Vitamin E is better for your brain, as it only shows a correlation.

Data Source

"We found that vitamin E was positively associated with performance in domains of verbal memory and fluency in the total population and psychomotor speed among women. The association between vitamin E and verbal memory was only partially mediated by depressive symptoms."

Source: Dietary antioxidant intake and its association with cognitive function in an ethnically diverse sample of US adults

More Information

Antioxidants: 3 Potential Benefits
Brain Power
Long term use may benefit cognition
Brain Power
Some studies have shown that taking antioxidants over many years can potentially lead to improvements in memory and verbal intelligence. However, this effect takes many years to manifest. More research is needed before we know for sure.
Cancer
Potential risk reduction.
Cancer
Some studies have shown that giving antioxidants to people who are deficient in certain antioxidant nutrients may help prevent cancer. But, the effect is not large and the research is mixed.
Vision
May protect against aging.
Vision
Certain antioxidants, including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein, have been shown to potentially protect the eye from age-related vision deterioration (macular degeneration).

Background:

Antioxidants & The Brain

What is an antioxidant?

"Antioxidants are man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage. Antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. They are also available as dietary supplements. "

What is cognitive testing?

"Cognitive and neuropsychological tests measure memory, language skills, math skills, visual and spatial skills, and other abilities related to mental functioning to help them diagnose a patient's condition accurately. For example, people with Alzheimer's disease often show changes in so-called executive functions (such as problem-solving), memory, and the ability to perform once-automatic tasks. "

How do antioxidants impact the brain?

"Antioxidant compounds, contained in fruit, vegetables and tea, have been postulated to have a protective effect against age-related cognitive decline by combating oxidative stress. However, recent research on this subject has been conflicting. "