A recent report out of Columbia University Medical Center in New York indicates that a lab-created drink containing cocoa flavanols might improve normal age-related memory loss.
The three month study was a small one in terms of duration and number of subjects but showed that, after drinking the special cocoa formula, someone with the typical memory of a 60 year old improved their memory to that of a 30 or 40 year old.
This news shouldn't create the next "chocolate rush" though, as flavanols actually exist in miniscule amounts in the chocolate we eat. The authors of the study point out that flavanols are found in many types of foods including tea leaves, fruits and vegetables. Other publications have indicated grapeseeds, dark colored berries in particular, tomatoes and soy as containing brain boosting flavanols.
Since the processing of most consumer chocolate products renders them almost flavanol-free, the study used a powder, developed by the food company Mars Inc. This powder isolated and preserved the flavanol so that it could be mixed into either water or milk in order to drink.
The new study included 37 volunteers between the ages of 50 and 69, all in good health. The subjects were given a diet enriched with raw cocoa flavanols. They were randomly assigned to receive either a high or low flavanol diet for a three month period. Both before and after the study, each person underwent memory testing as well as brain scans to monitor changes to a specific area of the brain, called the dentate gyrus region. This area is believed to be important in age-related memory loss. The test results showed that those in the high flavanol diet group scored significantly higher than the volunteer subjects on the low flavanol diet.
Dr. Scott Small, co-author of the study, stated "What is interesting here is that this is the first study to show a causal connection between a specific area of the brain and age-related memory loss." The investigators mentioned that more research is needed to expand on and confirm the findings using a larger pool of study participants.
Dr. Small and his colleagues discuss their work, which was funded in part by Mars Inc., in the October 26 issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience. Click here for a link to more information on this study.
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