Cocoa could improve memory

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A recent study indicates that cocoa can slow and potentially reverse age-related memory loss.

Scientists believe that flavanols, which are antioxidants found inside cocoa beans, could offer those aged 60 and over the memory of a ‘typical 30 or 40-year-old’.

The study which was done by the Columbia University Medical Centre in New York is believed to be the first evidence that memory decline due to age, a common problem which causes older people to forget small things like where they have placed their keys, can be overcome with dietary adjustments.

During the trial, 37 volunteers, aged between 50 and 69, were placed into two groups. One group was supplied with daily drinks containing 900mg of flavanols, whilst the other only received 10mg per day. It was found that after three months, the first group showed signs of clearer and faster recognition of visual patterns. Brain scans which were done before and after this period indicated more blood within the dentate gyrus section of the hippocampus, which is one of the regions known to generate fresh brain cells.

The senior author on the study, Dr Scott A Small, said that if a participant in the trials had the memory of a typical 60-year-old when the study commenced, that person would have the memory of a typical 30 or 40-year-old after three months.

A cognitive neuropsychologist at Goldsmiths College, Dr Ashok Jansari, stated that as the global population is aging, the isolation of a particular section of the brain which experiences weakening of its functions due to age, and the discovery of a non-pharmacological intervention to improve its function, would make a massive contribution to the improvement of cognitive health.

The study has been published in the online periodical Nature Neuroscience, follows research which indicates the cardiovascular benefits of cocoa. However, experts have warned that the study does not imply that people should consume more chocolate, as the product which was used during the experiment was a specially formulated drink made from cocoa beans.

This study did not consider the effect of cocoa on dementia, which differs from age-related memory decline.

Alzheimer Research UK’s Dr Simon Ridley said this small study highlights some of the potential effects of flavanols present in cocoa beans over a short trial period. However, he said that large-scale, longer studies are required to understand if a diet high in flavanols could impact on cognition in old age.

A senior lecturer in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol, Dr Liz Coulthard, said only reaction times, and not performance accuracy were improved during the study, and being faster without more accuracy may not always be advantageous.

Image Credit: Everjean

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