If something delicious and perhaps sinful turns out to be beneficial for your health, we will have no one complaining about it. Something similar happened when a study by Columbia University found that flavanols which is a component in Cocoa and the latter a principal ingredient in chocolate, can reverse one aspect of memory loss related to aging.
It was a small but interesting study which involved 37 healthy subjects between the ages of 50 to 69. One half of the groups were given a drink laced with 900 mg of Cocoa daily for three months. The rest were given 10 mg daily for three months.
Both the groups were then asked to go through a memory test and brain scans, once at the start of the session, and three months later after the completion of the session.
The study was spearheaded by Scott Small, professor of neurology at Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s disease and the Aging Brain, and his colleague Adam Brickman. Researchers found that the group which was consuming high levels of flavanols showed greatly improved performance on a test of visual memory. It was akin to a 60 year old performing like a 30 year old.
The test envisaged observing a series of abstract shapes and determining if the pattern of squiggly lines is the same as or unlike the one presented earlier. Studies conducted by Small in the past had revealed that the ability to perform this task falls at a predictable rate as the age advances.
Small explains, “This test reflects the kind of complaints I hear from relatively healthy older individuals who say, ‘If I met someone new today, I’m not sure I would recognize them on the street tomorrow. It tests the ability to form new memories as opposed to summoning up old information (which can be another issue for older adults).”
The subjects of the study were also examined in a fMRI or Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanner. Small and his team focused their attention on a structure in the brain called ‘dentate gyrus’, located in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a major role in memory.
Earlier research in mice and humans had revealed that decreased activity in the dentate gyrus is linked to the characteristic decline in memory seen in old people.
The fMRI studies revealed that people in the high flavonol group exhibited much greater volume in the dentate gyrus which is a benchmark for of brain connectivity and processing ability.
Small, who is working on a larger follow-up study said, “I think it provides proof of principle that diet could potentially reverse an aging process.”