Do you ever feel a little guilty for having that late-night chocolate bar? Around the holidays, chocolate is all around us and hard to avoid. However, a new study actually argues for the benefit of cocoa (basis of chocolate) in reversing memory decline in adults.
According to a new study completed by a team at Columbia University Medical Center, consuming cocoa leads to improved brain function. The article published in Nature Neuroscience explains how participants who drank a cocoa mixture experienced improved memory function. The participants also performed better on memory tests than the group who didn’t drink the cocoa mixture.
Cocoa's affect on the dentate gyrus
This study was completed under the assumption that some types of memory loss might come from a decline in the function of the dentate gyrus region of the brain. Previous studies in smaller animals indicated that flavanols (organic compounds) in cocoa beans help to improve brain function and connections in the dentate gyrus. The dentate gyrus is a part of the hippocampal formation and believed to be associated with the formation of memories. New neurons are formed here, (neurogenesis) which creates new memories. Improved neurogenesis may then create improved memory.
Participants in the study were given 900 mg of flavanols each day, whereas the other group was given only 10 mg. Before and after the study the participants were given brain scans. They measured the blood volume of the dentate gyrus—which indicates metabolism. In this case the metabolism increased with large flavanol intake—showing increased function.
Cocoa said to improve memory in study results
According to the senior member of the research team, Dr. Scott Small, individuals who had the “memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study” at the end “had the memory of a typical 30 or 40 year old” after consuming the 900 mg of flavanols. Participants showed signs of increased function in the dentate gyrus. The actual mechanisms of this process are still unknown.
However, the research team did mention that the cocoa they used isn’t exactly the same as used in chocolate—so don’t go on a chocolate binge just yet!