A diet high in cocoa bean flavanols-naturally created dietary compounds found within the cocoa bean-may enhance cognitive function in older individuals, reports a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience.
Age-related cognitive decline is associated with changes in a brain region called the dentate gyrus (DG). Previous studies report that age-related decreases in function of the DG may be involved in memory decline over time.
Scott A. Small and colleagues examined whether cocoa flavanols, would enhance DG function and cognitive performance in 37 older participants, aged 50-69, who were given either a high or a low dose of cocoa flavanols for three months. The authors report that in a delayed-recognition memory task participants who consumed a high dose of cocoa flavanols over three months were much faster than those who received a low flavanol dose. From brain scans obtained, both before and after three months of flavanol consumption, the authors found that this flavanol-improved performance was correlated with increased cerebral blood volume in the DG, suggesting that high consumption of dietary cocoa flavanols can enhance DG function, and therefore cognitive function, in older individuals.