When your memory fails you it can either be embarrassing—like forgetting the name of the woman who runs the charity drive at church. Or it can be a bit frightening—such as not being able to recall your own phone number.
But either way it’s a feeling we’d ALL prefer to avoid.
Well it turns out the solution to those age-related memory burps could be hiding in plain sight in, of all places, the candy aisle. More on that in a moment, but let’s first take a quick look at what’s behind those little slips.
As we age, an area in the hippocampus portion of our brain called the dentate gyrus—which is associated with memory—begins to lose a little bit of its edge. And those of us who aren’t spring chickens anymore can start to see the effects of those changes in our everyday lives in the form of forgetfulness and sluggish thinking.
New things can be more difficult to learn and recalling information can take longer. Having trouble memorizing the directions to the restaurant? Or did you forget where you parked your car? That could be your dentate gyrus going a bit soft on you.
But studies have revealed a surprisingly sweet solution. Researchers say regularly savoring delicious dark chocolate could come with some big brain benefits.
Cocoa flavanols boost cognitive function
Here’s what we know…
Chocolate is naturally rich in the plant-based nutrients called flavanols. And those same cocoa flavanols have been shown to help improve the connections in the dentrate gryus area of the brain.
In fact in a double-blind study when researchers gave them to a group of healthy seniors who were experiencing some age-related memory decline they saw some exciting results.
After eight weeks seniors who got a daily dose of higher amounts of cocoa flavanols (520 mg or 993 mg) did much better on tests of cognitive function and verbal fluency than the unlucky group who received the least (48 mg) of the plant-based nutrients.1,2
In a similar study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, seniors put on a high-flavanol diet for three months showed significantly improved brain function. And they performed much better on memory tests.3
In the real world that could mean no longer forgetting to pick up the milk on the way home from work.
Chocolate eaters have better memories
And that’s not all.
Another study published in the journal Appetite adds even more evidence to the link between chocolate and better memory. Researchers found that in a group of 968 adults, folks who ate 25 grams of chocolate (about half a bar) once or twice a week performed far better on six tests of cognitive function including memory and reasoning.4
And we even have a good idea of how it works.
Researchers believe flavanols, as well as other brain-friendly compounds called methylxanthines, boost blood flow to the brain. In other words, a regular chocolate habit could be the key to boosting your own memory.
Just make sure you’re eating the dark variety, so you don’t undo all that good with too much sugar. And don’t overdo it, either.
1. “Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment The Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study,” Hypertension. 2012;60:794-801
2. “Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study—a randomized controlled trial” Am J Clin Nutr, First published December 17, 2014
3. “Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults,” Nature Neuroscience, 17, 1798–1803, (2014)
4. “Chocolate intake is associated with better cognitive function: The Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study,” Appetite. 2016 May 1;100:126-32.
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