First heart health and now a better memory? No wonder we love chocolate. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center recently completed a small but noteworthy study in which antioxidant compounds found in chocolate were shown to help older adults improve memory skills as they age.
Scientists recruited nearly 40 participants between the ages of 50 and 69, each of whom drank a daily mixture containing cocoa flavanols. After only three months, those who received the high-flavanol mixture performed about 25 percent better on a memory test than their low-flavanol counterparts—a difference study author Dr. Scott Small said was equal to performing like someone two or three decades younger.
The memory test involved everyday tasks such as facial recognition and remembering the location of an object, both of which are skills that seem to decline as we get older. Scientists speculate the improvements could be the result of increased blood flow to the brain or even stimulated growth of message-receiving neurons in the brain. However, no improvement was seen in areas of the brain often impaired in those with Alzheimer’s, suggesting the disease follows a different process than normal age-related memory loss.
Still, just eating more chocolate isn’t going to do the trick—unless you’re up for eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day (that’s about seven candy bars, say researchers)—not to mention most of those healthy flavanols are often processed out. However, more research is planned to see if the healthy compounds may provide benefits in pill form.