Cocoa contains bioactive ingredients that reversed age-related memory decline in a group of volunteers, scientists reported on Sunday. The compounds, called flavanols, were taken in a specially-prepared cocoa drink, according to an experiment published by the journal Nature Neuroscience. Over three months, 37 healthy volunteers aged 50-69 had a daily drink containing either a high dose of flavonols — 900 milligrammes — or a low dose, 10mg.

Activities like brain imaging, measuring blood volume in a key part of the hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, were carried out by the scientists. They also carried out memory tests before and after the volunteers started with the drink. “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,” said Scott Small, a professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

More work, in a bigger group, is needed to verify these early findings, he cautioned. Flavanols have excited great interest. They dangle the possibility of tackling age-related memory loss in the world’s fast-growing population of elderly but without using drugs. “The dentate gyrus in humans and mice are very similar,” Small said in an e-mail exchange with AFP. “I suppose that our study does show, for the first time, that flavanols improves the function of humans’ dentate gyrus, particularly in ageing humans.”

“Very simply, the amount of flavanols that are found in chocolate is minuscule compared to the very high amount of extracted flavanols that our subjects consumed. The same is true for most other foods or teas,” said Smith. “Hopefully, in the future a food source or a specific diet will be identified that contains very high amounts of the specific flavanols we studied.”

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