Cocoa flavanols may improve memory in older people

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In a study from Columbia University and New York University, scientists found that in older people, a diet supplemented with cocoa flavanols– naturally occurring compounds found in cocoa beans—may improve performance on a specific memory task.

They recruited 211 healthy people aged 50-75 for the study, which lasted for 12 weeks.

At the start and end of the study, participants undertook a series of cognitive tests to assess their thinking and memory.

Some of the participants were given an MRI scan to measure blood flow in the brain.

During the trial, the participants were divided into four groups and given different levels of a supplement containing cocoa flavanols: Placebo (0 mg of Flavanols per day), low intake (260 mg), medium intake (510 mg), high intake (770 mg).

The study highlights some possible effects of flavanols found in cocoa beans over a short time period.

Researchers say that longer, large-scale studies are needed to fully understand whether a diet high in these flavanols could boost cognition in old age.

The researchers found that by the end of the study, those on a high-flavanol diet performed better in a list-learning task compared to the placebo group.

But they did not find a relationship between flavanol intake and performance on two other cognitive tests, one of which was the primary outcome of the study.

There was no effect of 12 weeks of flavanol supplementation on blood flow to the region of the brain the researchers had identified in advance of the study.

The researchers say that future work needs to test whether a diet high in cocoa would have any effect in either preventing or delaying the onset of the condition.

The study used cocoa flavanol supplements provided to participants in capsule form.

While cocoa beans are the basis for chocolate, chocolates are not a reliable source of flavanol compounds and this study does not suggest that eating chocolate is good for our cognitive health.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and Omega-3 fats and carotenoid supplements could improve memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and flavonoid-rich foods could improve survival in Parkinson’s.

The study was conducted by Sloan, R.P et al and published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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