The health benefits of chocolate are really getting a lot of attention these days. Recent research has shown that the tasty treat can reduce your heart attack risk, lower your blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, and even decrease the impact of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms. But new research shows that chocolate might be able to turn back the clock on your memory.
Researchers from Columbia University, New York University, and Mars, Inc. wanted to see if chocolate could improve age-related memory loss. The researchers didn't look at any Alzheimer's patients, as this study focused on cognitive decline associated with normal aging not Alzheimer's disease. Age-related memory loss typically involves some decline in learning ability and a decreased ability to remember specific things, such as names and dates or where you put your car keys.
This type of memory loss can start in early adulthood. But you usually won't notice any change in your quality of life until you're in your 50s — at the earliest.
In this study, the researchers randomly gave 37 volunteers a diet that was either low (10 mg daily) or high (900 mg daily) in flavanols. All of the participants were between the ages of 50 and 69. At the start and end of the study, the researchers gave each of the participants a memory test and also took brain-imaging scans that measured blood flow to the dentate gyrus. Damage to the dentate gyrus is the typical cause of age-related memory loss.
After the study, the researchers found that participants who ate the diet high in flavanols showed significant increases in dentate gyrus activity. They also showed improved performance on the memory test, compared with those on the low-flavanol diet.
Just how significant was the improvement for those who consumed the most flavanols? Are you sitting down? Because the answer might just blow you over.
The lead researcher, Dr. Small, said, "If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old."
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Those results are stunning! To see that big of an improvement just by consuming chocolate is fantastic. In fact, it's a little hard to believe. It's especially hard to believe considering Mars, Inc financed the study. Yes, that's the same company that makes a lot of chocolate products. So they had a clear incentive to see good results. But there's no evidence that the results were skewed. However, there was one caveat to the story.
Manufactures typically strip most of the flavanols from the cocoa they use in their chocolate products. So you're not likely to see these same results from all chocolate products — unless they are products that don't strip the flavanols out. You need about 250 mg of flavanols to reap the benefits of chocolate. Mars does make CocoaVia, a powder dietary supplement that has 250 mg of cocoa flavanols per 20- to 30-calorie packet. You can mix it in drinks, oatmeal, smoothies, and anything else you can think to mix it in.
Mars also makes Dove Dark chocolate and goodnessknows, a new dark chocolate line available online and in Colorado. Mars guarantees that both products have 200 mg of cocoa flavanols per serving. Other chocolate makers are beginning to label their products, so buy the ones that guarantee their flavanol levels. Many companies say their products have high levels, but won't specify the actual number. Avoid these products until they tell us how good they are for you.
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Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.