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.
We know from past research that fish-derived Omega-3 fatty acids provide a multitude of health benefits for the whole body—from supporting the heart, brain and nervous system to protecting our eyes and joints. Now, three new studies spotlight the role of Omega-3 fish oil in a healthy diet and why we should consume more of these healthy fats and fewer saturated and trans fats.
Fish Oil May Protect Against Diabetes
Past evidence has shown that fatty fish consumption can help protect against diabetes by having a positive effect on glucose metabolism. In a recent study conducted by scientists in Sweden, similar results were seen in the case of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), which shares characteristics of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes including weight gain and insulin resistance. They found that one or more servings of fatty fish per week consumption was indeed associated with a reduced risk of LADA.
Omega-3 Fats Linked to Increased Brain Volume
Scientists no longer believe that age-related brain shrinkage and nerve cell death is irreversible. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that older adults who consume high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids showed signs of new tissue development and an increase in gray matter—the areas of the brain involved in memory, emotions, muscle control, sensory perception and decision making.
Americans Still Eating Too Many Unhealthy Fats
Results of a new long-term study published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association show that although consumption of saturated fats and trans fats have declined in the last three decades, Americans are still consuming far more unhealthy fats than experts recommend. The American Heart Association recommends limiting trans fats to one percent (or less) of total calories consumed and saturated fats to between five and six percent of total calories, while at the same time increasing the amount of healthy Omega-3 fats consumed from fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring.