Cocoa Flavanols May Combat Age-Related Memory Loss

Cocoa Flavanols May Combat Age-Related Memory Loss

By this point, you are probably aware of the important role that antioxidants play in relation to your health. You may not be aware of flavanols, which are naturally occurring compounds that exist in plants. Flavanols are a distinct sub-group of flavonoids, and they predominantly exist in grapes, apples, cocoa, and beverages such as tea. 

According to a recent study, daily flavanol supplementation may help stall or even reverse age-related memory loss. To conduct the study, researchers randomly assigned 3,500 older adults to either take a placebo pill or daily flavanol supplement for three years. The supplement contained 500 milligrams (mg) of flavanols extracted from cocoa, which ranged from 400 – 600 mg, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

At the beginning of the study and throughout the follow-up period, participants completed a series of short-term memory tests. These tests were designed to measure subtle changes in skills like word recall that tend to fade with age. Participants also completed diet surveys in order for research to note the overall healthiness of foods they consumed and how often they consumed flavanol-rich foods.

What Was The Biggest Memory Benefit?

As it turns out, the biggest memory benefit was for people who kept low-antioxidant diets. The impact of flavanols on memory appeared to be quite modest, and improvements after one year of the flavanol supplement group were too small to rule out that they were due to chance. Most of the participants in the study kept fairly healthy diets and already consumed a variety of foods that contained flavanols. 

For the people who had poorer diets and consumed fewer flavanol-rich foods, the supplements made quite a difference. This group showed a 16% improvement on memory test scores after one year of taking the flavanol supplement. Memory was worse in people with lower than normal flavanol levels, and they restored their memory after restoring flavanol levels to the normal range. 

Is Antioxidant Deficiency Tied To Age-Related Memory Loss?

The researchers conducting the study noted that anyone with a deficiency in flavanols may benefit from consuming more flavanols. That is because flavanol deficiency could possibly be a major contributing factor to age-related cognitive decline. One of the study’s limitations, however, was that most participants ate fairly well. Researchers note that the impact of increased flavanol consumption on memory would be more noticeable if they only focused on people who kept poor quality diets and didn’t eat many flavanol-rich foods.

The wrong takeaway from this study is that you can eat 500 mg of chocolate to boost your memory and avoid age-related cognitive decline. The supplements that participants took over the course of the study were made from concentrated cocoa extract. Those supplements didn’t contain any of the sugars or fats that exist in most chocolate bars. 

Flavanols Exist In Many Fruits And Vegetables

If you want to consume more flavanols, focus on eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Although the flavanol content may not be as concentrated as the 500 mg flavanol supplement in the study, eating an assortment of fruits and vegetables is a great step in the right direction. Dietitians suggest that a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is the best way to consume as many antioxidants and flavanols as possible. Additionally, researchers note that focusing on those foods can help lower your risk of chronic diseases and cognitive decline.

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