Eating this fruit could prevent frailty in old age, study shows

  • New research shows that foods high in flavonoids may help prevent frailty in older adults.
  • Researchers have found this to be especially true in quercetin-rich foods.
  • Here, nutrition experts explain the findings.

As we age, our bodies naturally lose some degree of bone strength, and brittleness, or weakness, becomes a more common problem. Now, a new study shows how to eat certain foods, including applesit can help keep frailty at bay and hold you back feel stronger as you get older.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked like certain foods they contain quercetina specific subclass of flavonoids (compounds found naturally in many antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables), affect frailty in the elderly.

The study looked at 1,701 individuals who were not considered frail at the start of the program and asked them to complete a questionnaire assessing their flavonoid intake. After 12 years, 13.2% of participants had developed frailty. Fragility is a common clinical syndrome in the elderly that carries an increased risk of adverse health outcomes including falls, accident disability, hospitalization, and mortality.

Although total flavonoid intake was not associated with the development of frailty, every 10 mg/day of increased flavonol intake was linked to a 20% lower chance of developing frailty. More specifically, every 10 mg/day of increased quercetin intake was associated with a 35% lower odds of frailty onset, while other flavonoid subclasses showed no association.

So what is quercetin and how does it affect frailty?

Quercetin is a plant compound with antioxidant properties, explains Keri Gans, MS, RD, registered dietitian and author of The diet of small changes. Quercetin is important to our health because it fights inflammation, it adds Melissa Prest, DCN, RDNNational Media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board.

Quercetin occurs naturally in many foods, including:

  • Yellow and green peppers
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Red grapes
  • cabbage
  • Berries
  • You
  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Olive oil
  • capers
  • Parsley
  • Asparagus
  • Citrus fruits
  • Leafy vegetables

Quercetin has been the subject of scientific research in the past. It has been studied and considered a promising agent in improve bone health and another ongoing clinical trial is specifically studying the ability of quercetins to protect against bone loss and stimulate bone formation. And according to this new study, higher quercetin intake was associated with a lower risk of frailty in adults, says Gans.

What can the elderly do to prevent frailty?

In addition to loading up on quercetin-rich foods, there are other things you can and should do to maintain your strength and reduce your risk of frailty later in life. In order to reduce the risk of frailty in aging adults, adequate calories should be consumed daily, especially proteinsays Gans. Protein is very important to older adults, and many don\’t eat enough of it, adds Perst. Add some protein-rich foods, low-sugar or nonfat yogurt, low-fat milk, beans, eggs, or chicken to every meal and snack.

By incorporating a fitness routine that includes standing AND resistance exercises it\’s also key, adds Gans. Muscle mass decreases as you age, so engaging in activities like walking and/or strength training can help you stay strong, explains Prest.

People who have strong social connections and continue to learn also have a lower risk of frailty, says Perst. So it\’s important to keep your mind sharp to keep your body strong.

The bottom line

Frailty is not uncommon in the elderly, and studies have found that it only becomes more common as people age. One study found that frailty steadily increases with age, starting with 4% of adults aged 65-69, 7% of adults aged 70-74, 9% of adults aged aged 75-79, 16% of adults aged 80-84, and 26% of adults aged 85 and older.

This study is another good reminder that a variety of plant-based foods should be consumed daily for health-promoting benefits, says Gans. So take a look at what your daily diet looks like, and if you could handle loading up on more quercetin-rich foods, they might just help you maintain bone strength and keep you from feeling weak in the long run.

While fruits and vegetables are a great way to get quercetin, some people may want to take a quercetin supplement, says Perst. Be sure to discuss taking a quercetin supplement with your provider since there are some possible interactions between quercetin supplements and antibiotics, blood thinners, chemotherapy, corticosteroids, cyclosporine, digoxin, fluoroquinolones, and liver-modified drugs, he notes.

Food supplements are products intended to supplement the diet. They are not medicinal products and are not intended to treat, diagnose, mitigate, prevent or cure any disease. Be cautious about taking dietary supplements if you are pregnant or nursing. Also, be careful about giving supplements to a child, unless recommended by their doctor.


Magdalene, Preventions assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her own research at the university. She holds degrees in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience from the University of Michigan and helps strategize for success across the globe. Preventions social media platforms.

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