A bioactive found in cocoa reversed age related memory decline in healthy older adults, according to a study published in Nature Neuroscience.
Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center observed 37 healthy volunteers aged between 50 and 69 years. The participants were randomized to either receive a high flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for 3 months. The patients were administered brain imaging tests to evalutate dentate gyrus, which measures metabolism, and memory tests both at baseline and after the study.
Mars, Incorporated partially supported the research and specially prepared a cocoa flavanol containing test drink. They used proprietary processes to extract the flavanols from the cocoa beans, whereas most processing methods remove many of the flavanols from the raw plant.
At the end of study evaluations, the high flavanol group 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 3 months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,” senior author Scott A. Small, PhD explained in a press release.
The participants in the high flavanol group also demonstrated better dentate gyrus function.
“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,” continued lead author Adam M. Brickman, PhD in the statement.
Researchers were unable to determine in this study if exercise had an effect on memory or dentate gyrus activity. This was because the maximal oxygen uptake was not achieved. However, they have not ruled out exercise as beneficial for cognition.
Flavanols are naturally found in tea leaves and certain fruits and vegetables, but levels vary among them. The researchers cautioned that the product used in the study is not the same as chocolate, and warn that an increased chocolate consumption would likely not produce the same effect.
Prior studies have indicated the dentate gyrus is associated with age related memory decline, but only demonstrated a correlational link and not a causal one. With this study, the researchers demonstrated the first direct evidence that age related memory decline can be positively impacted via a dietary intervention.
The authors wrote that further studies are needed to replicate the results in larger patient populations. They plan to begin this research soon.