A US study has revealed that flavanol, a bioactive ingredient in cocoa, reverses age-related memory decline by improving the function of the part of the brain responsible for memory formation.
Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) published the results of a dietary experiment, based on the effects of flavanols, extracted from cocoa beans, on the aging human brain in the journal Nature Neuroscience on Sunday.
A group of 37 healthy volunteers aged from 50 to 69 was randomly divided in two. Each day for three months, they had a specially-prepared cocoa drink, which is not available commercially. One group consumed the drink with 900mg of flavanols, and the other with only 10mg of these compounds.
“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 senior author Scott Small in a press-release.
The core goal of the experiment was to study the brain’s dentate gyrus – a part of the hippocampal formation which is responsible for memory formation, and is age-sensitive. So the scientists had to carry out brain imaging to measure its blood volume and prove whether it is a source of typical forgetfulness widespread among the elderly.
“I suppose that our study does show, for the first time, that flavanols improves the function of humans’ dentate gyrus, particularly in ageing humans,” Small told AFP.
To demonstrate the difference before and after the experiment, the participants had to pass special memory tests – a 20-minute pattern-recognition exercise, specifically addressing the dentate gyrus. Faster and clearer recognition among the high-flavanol group was backed by their better blood volume tests.
“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, of the Taub Institute in a press release.