Cocoa brain boost
A chemical found in cocoa could improve blood flow in a part of the brain that helps with memory, a study has found.
The research, published in Nature Neuroscience online, found that taking cocoa flavanols appeared to improve older people’s performance in memory tests.
Previous studies had shown that changes in a part of the brain called the ‘‘dentate gyrus’’ were associated with memory decline.
The researchers used a specially prepared cocoa drink, which gave participants a dose of flavanols.
Most methods of processing cocoa remove many of the flavanols.
The 37 volunteers, aged between 50 and 69, who took part in the study were given a 20-minute patternrecognition exercise. Those given the high- flavanol drink performed significantly better.
Scott Small, of Columbia University medical centre, the study’s senior author, said if a participant had the memory of a typical 60- year- old at the beginning, ‘‘after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30 or 40-year-old’’.
Adam Brickman, assistant professor of neuropsychology at Columbia University, added: ‘‘When we imaged our research subjects’ brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who had the high-cocoa-flavanol drink.’’
Flavanols extracted from cocoa beans had previously been found to improve neuronal connections in the dentate gyrus of mice.
The high- flavanol formula used in the study has also been shown to improve cardiovascular health.
The researchers said the product was not the same as chocolate. Flavanols also occur naturally in tea leaves and some fruits and vegetables, although the amounts and types vary.
Cognitive neuropsychologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Ashok Jansari, said the study was ‘‘ exciting’’, adding: ‘‘ The authors have made a signficant contribution to helping us improve our cognitive health.’’