Cocoa contains flavanols which have been linked to reversing age related memory decline in healthy older adults based on a new study published din the Nature Neuroscience. Flavanols are also found naturally in tea leaves and in certain fruits and vegetables, but the overall amounts, as well as the specific forms and mixtures, vary widely.
The study, by the University of Columbia, is the first to directly link age related memory decline to specific changes in a region of a brain affected by dietary intervention.
The research participants consisted of 37 healthy volunteers, aged 50 to 69, who received either a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for three months on a random basis. Brain imaging and memory tests were administered to each participant before and after the study. The brain imaging measured blood volume in the dentate gyrus, a measure of metabolism, and the memory test involved a 20-minute pattern-recognition exercise designed to evaluate a type of memory controlled by the dentate gyrus.
“When we imaged our research subjects’ brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink,” said lead author Adam M. Brickman, PhD, associate professor of neuropsychology at the Taub Institute.
The high-flavanol group also performed significantly better on the memory test. “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,” said Dr. Small.
Adam M Brickman, Usman A Khan, Frank A Provenzano, Lok-Kin Yeung, Wendy Suzuki, Hagen Schroeter, Melanie Wall, Richard P Sloan, Scott A Small. Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nature Neuroscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nn.3850