Study finds cocoa flavanols may improve memory in older adults

Flavanols may boost memory in older adults. (Photo via Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch)
Flavanols may boost memory in older adults. (Photo via Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch)

A study has found that consuming flavanols may help improve memory and reduce age-related mental decline in older adults. The study was published in the US Journal: The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

However, researchers have also suggested that age-related mental decline should not be confused with degenerative problems like dementia and Alzheimer’s. They have clarified that age-related mental decline is a condition that affects thinking speed and leads to issues with word-finding and is completely different from degenerative diseases.

What are flavanols?

It may help with age-related mental decline. (Photo via Pexels/Kindel Media)
It may help with age-related mental decline. (Photo via Pexels/Kindel Media)

Flavonoids are compounds that are found in plants. They have a distinct group called flavanols, which are found in foods and beverages like grapes, red wine, tea and cocoa. Among them, cocoa is unique and consists of a mixture of phytonutrients that are only found in cocoa beans.

Although there are flavanols in chocolate, remember that the entire processing of cocoa beans, which includes methods like roasting, fermentation, alkalization and more, can destroy some of these important flavonoids, leaving no health benefit.

An interesting thing to know here is that each plant may consist of more than one type of flavanol and other essential micronutrients, too. That makes it all the more important for people to consume them to get the most benefit. It's also important to note that flavanols are bioactive, too, which means they play a major role in several processes in the body.

However, unlike other nutrients like minerals, proteins and vitamins, flavonoids are not necessary to survive, but they are indeed important for maintaining good health.

What’s the new study all about?

Cocoa is a good source of flavonoids. (Photo via Pexels/Елена Черных)
Cocoa is a good source of flavonoids. (Photo via Pexels/Елена Черных)

In the study, 3,562 older adults were divided into two groups. The first group took a daily sugar pill or placebo, and the other group took a 500-mg cocoa flavanol supplement for three years. Thirteen hundred participants also underwent urine tests to determine the level of flavanoids in their body.

Participants then underwent a cognitive test, in which they were asked to memorize 20 words on a computer programme. Participants were also asked to write all the words immediately after the test. The test was repeated every year for three years.

At the completion of the first year, it was found that participants who took cocoa supplements and who tested for low-level of flavanols normalized their levels. It was also found that in those participants, flavanols also helped restore age-related mental decline to the same levels as people who had a high level of flavanoids at baseline.

The study found that seniors who consumed a placebo or sugar pill scored less in tests of hippocampal memory function compared to older adults who consumed the supplement. The hippocampus is a part of the brain that helps with learning and storage of memory and also works with spatial navigation.

According to researchers, the new research is a supplementation of the study, the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS).

Researchers focused on flavanols in chocolate

For the study, researchers typically focused on cocoa flavanols and found impressive results. However, they have warned that having chocolate may not provide sufficient levels and people should avoid eating chocolates.

Researchers have suggested that consuming at least 500 mg daily may reverse the negative effect on memory functions, particularly in older adults. However, they have also warned that it may show no effect on people who don’t have flavonoid deficiency.

Flavanol-rich foods

Lemons are natural sources of flavonoids. (Photo via Pexels/Lukas)
Lemons are natural sources of flavonoids. (Photo via Pexels/Lukas)

If your everyday diet is low in this key compound, some foods can help boost the level. Here are some foods with flavanols to include in your diet:

  • berries
  • onions
  • red cabbage
  • parsley
  • kale
  • green, black, or oolong tea
  • citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges
  • soy beans

While the research is promising, researchers have warned that people should not overconsume these foods to get sufficient dosage, as it may lead to certain side effects.

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Edited by Bhargav
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