A new study finds that cocoa flavanols, which are found in cocoa, can reverse age-related memory decline in healthy adults.
Columbia University Medical Center researchers published a study this week in Nature Neuroscience that shows that an aspect of age-related memory weakening in humans is due to changes in a specific part of the brain — but the decline can be improved by eating well.
Milk chocolate doesn't cut it — go for real cocoa
Specifically, pass the dark chocolate... but skip the milk chocolate variety, which doesn't have a high enough cocoa variety to do much upstairs.
Usually, age-related memory decline starts in early adulthood but isn't apparent until we reach our 50s and 60s — and it's different than the memory failures that can occur with Alzheimer's disease. Up until now, we knew that changes in the dentate gyrus were tied to age-related memory deterioration. Flavanols extracted from cocoa beans, which belong to a class of flavonoids, have been found to boost neural connections in that area of the brain in mice. Dr. Scott A. Small, M.D., wanted to see if the same could be said for humans.
Now, it's important to note that Mars, Inc., partially sponsored the research. They prepared a drink containing cocoa flavanols, which often are removed from the raw cocoa plant during processing. This is why you see so many high-quality cocoas on the market that boast a percentage count of cocoa — the higher the percentage, the healthier it is for you.
As part of the study, 37 people between the ages of 50 to 60 drank either 900 milligrams of flavanols a day or 10 milligrams of flavanols a day over the course of three months. Then they took images of their brains and performed memory tests on participants. The imaging tests were able to gauge blood volume in the dentate gyrus, which calculates metabolism.
They found that those consuming the high-flavanol cocoa drink had improvements in the dentate gyrus. Those who drank the higher flavanol drinks also performed better on the memory test.
Here's how well it worked, in Dr. Small's words: "If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old," he said.
Small knows that the findings have to be replicated, and across a larger study. It's kind of cool, though, to think that we can improve our cognitive capabilities just by eating some really good cocoa.
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