A little magic from fruits and veggies: how flavanols prevent memory loss

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Let’s start with a question: Do you know what flavanols are?

They are natural substances found in many fruits and vegetables, like apples and berries, as well as in dark chocolate and green tea.

Recently, some really smart scientists made an exciting discovery.

They found out that flavanols might be a secret ingredient for a good memory, especially as we get older.

The Exciting Study

Researchers from two very famous places, Columbia University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard, came together for this.

They did a big study, involving lots of older people (over 60 years old), and looked at what happens when these people got more flavanols in their diet.

Here’s what they found: those people who didn’t get enough flavanols in their food seemed to have a worse memory than those who ate plenty of flavanol-rich foods.

Even more exciting, when they gave these people more flavanols, their memory got better!

Meet the Smart Scientists

Adam Brickman and Scott Small are the main scientists behind this study. Brickman is an expert in how our brain works.

Scott Small is a doctor who understands a lot about our nervous system. These guys had a hunch that what we eat might affect our memory, and they were right!

Backstory: Our Brain and Memory

You know when you forget where you put your keys or can’t remember the name of that movie you watched last week?

That’s because a part of your brain called the hippocampus, which is responsible for creating new memories, isn’t performing at its best. As we get older, this can get worse, leading to what is called age-related memory loss.

For a long time, scientists have known that the hippocampus really likes flavanols. In fact, studies have shown that mice, who also have a hippocampus, had better memory when they had more flavanols.

The Experiment: Flavanols to the Rescue!

In this study, the scientists asked over 3,500 older adults to take a pill every day for three years. Some of these pills had flavanols in them, and some didn’t (these are called placebo pills).

At the start, everyone did a survey about what foods they usually ate. They also did some online activities to test their memory. These tests were repeated every year.

Some participants also gave urine samples, which allowed the scientists to accurately measure how much flavanols were in their bodies.

And the Results?

Well, people who already ate a healthy diet with lots of flavanols didn’t see much change in their memory. But those who didn’t get enough flavanols in their food had a different experience.

After one year, their memory scores went up by about 10.5% compared to those who took the placebo pill. And, this improvement stayed with them for at least two more years!

Wait, What About Other Studies?

Another study had similar results but didn’t separate people with low and high flavanol levels. It found that flavanols didn’t help everyone’s memory, only those who had low flavanol levels, to begin with.

So, it seems like flavanols might not help you if you’re already getting enough from your food.

What’s Next?

While this study showed that flavanols can improve memory, the scientists aren’t 100% sure yet if not having enough flavanols can cause poor memory. To know this for sure, they would need to do another study.

They also think that if they gave more flavanols to younger people, like those in their 40s and 50s, they might see even better results.

In the end, these findings remind us that eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and other foods high in flavanols might help keep our brains sharp as we age. So, don’t forget to eat your greens, or rather, your flavanol-rich foods!

If you care about nutrition, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and this plant nutrient could help reduce high blood pressure.

For more information about nutrition, please see recent studies that olive oil may help you live longer, and vitamin D could help lower the risk of autoimmune diseases.

The study was published in PNAS.

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