Good news chocolate lovers! New research has found that a compound found in chocolate may help improve memory skills and reduce the memory loss that often accompanies old age.
It’s all about the flavanols. Researchers have found that these plant compounds – found in chocolate – are the key to the improvements.
In a new study, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center tested a special cocoa drink – highly concentrated with flavanols – to determine their effect on memory. The study, which was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, found that participants who drank a high-flavanol cocoa for three months performed better on a memory test than people who drank a low-flavanol mixture.
“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. Scott Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s senior author.
For the study, researchers examined the memory skills of 37 healthy adults, aged 50 to 69. About half of the participants were asked to consume a high-flavanol diet of about 900 mg of flavanols a day while the remaining participants followed a low-flavanol diet of 10 mg of flavanols a day for three months. Researchers performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and also memory tests on all participants at the beginning and at the end of the study.
After three months, researchers found that the high-flavanol group showed noticeable improvements in an area of the brain called the dentate gyrus, which has been linked to this type of memory, and is often affected by aging. These participants also performed about 25 percent better on memory tests than their low-flavanol peers.
But researchers warn that as promising as these results are, you shouldn’t try to duplicate them at home. The cocoa that the participants drank was no ordinary cocoa but a proprietary drink made by Mars, Inc which is rich in flavanols and is not yet available on store shelves. To get this amount of flavanols in your daily diet you would need to eat at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — or about seven average-sized bars. Unfortunately, this fat and calorie overload would lead to a whole different series of health issues. And don’t even bother with milk chocolate as most varieties have the flavanols processed right out of them.
Still, it can’t hurt to enjoy a cup of cocoa in the evening while remembering the days gone by.