• Memory Decline: Dietary Flavanols Reverse

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    An unfortunate side effect of aging is often decreased memory function. Age-related memory decline is linked to the dentate gyrus region of the hippocampus, which is a different part of the brain than the one affecting people with early Alzheimer’s or other neurodegenerative disease. A team of researchers have found that increasing dietary cocoa flavanols can improve brain function in this region, and even lead to better scores in memory tests. Adam Brickman of Columbia University’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain was the lead author on the paper. The dentate gyrus has been implicated in previous memory-related studies, though the link seemed to be more correlative than causal. In order to establish a relationship between the two, the researchers wanted to boost activity in that region of the brain, and see if it would affect memory. Flavanols are chemicals found in raw, unprocessed cocoa beans as well as some other plant material. They were chosen for this study, as prior research uncovered that flavanol is able to act on the dentate gyrus, boosting the number of neuronal connections, and thus, function.

    A cocoa flavanol-containing test drink prepared specifically for research purposes was produced by the food company Mars, Incorporated, which also supported the research, using a proprietary process to extract flavanols from cocoa beans. Most methods of processing cocoa remove many of the flavanols found in the raw plant. Image Credit: Mars, Incorporated.

    Dietary cocoa flavanols—naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa—reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults, according to a study led by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) scientists. The study, published today in the advance online issue of Nature Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that one component of age-related memory decline in humans is caused by changes in a specific region of the brain and that this form of memory decline can be improved by a dietary intervention.

    As people age, they typically show some decline in cognitive abilities, including learning and remembering such things as the names of …

    Apologies to anyone with a sweet tooth: this study does not give free reign to pig out on chocolate this Halloween weekend. Chocolate is not a great source of these flavonoids. While fine dark chocolate will comprise anywhere from 45 to 80% cocoa, the chocolate found in the average candy bar has only 5 to 7%. Additionally, chocolate also has added sugar and fat, which may negate any benefits that come from eating the cocoa.

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