Compound in Cocoa May Improve Memory Loss

HealthDay News — A lab-created cocoa drink appears to improve normal age-related memory loss, according to a small new study. The findings have been published in Nature Neuroscience.

The study authors pointed out that flavanols are found (to varying degrees) in many types of foods, including tea leaves, fruits, and vegetables, as well as raw cocoa. However, the manner in which most consumer chocolate products are produced renders them flavanol-free. The study therefore relied on a process — developed by the food company Mars Inc. — that could specifically preserve and isolate the flavanol in powder form, before being mixed into either water or milk for consumption.

Study participants (37 healthy volunteers between the ages of 50 and 69) were randomly assigned to receive either a high-flavanol diet (900 milligrams) or low-flavanol (10 milligrams) diet for a period of three months. Both before and after the study period, each volunteer underwent brain scans, to monitor changes to the dentate gyrus region of the brain. All of the volunteers also completed a modified memory test.

The researchers found that those in the high-flavanol diet group ended up scoring significantly higher in post-diet testing than those in the low-flavanol diet. The high-flavanol group also demonstrated improved memory at the end of the three-month experiment, relative to their own abilities before starting the diet.

“This is really not about chocolate,” study coauthor Scott Small, MD, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center with the Taub Institute at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay. “And it would be detrimental to one’s health to try and run out and get flavanols from chocolate, which exist in chocolate, but in miniscule amounts.”

The study was funded in part by Mars Inc.


  1. Brickman AM. Nature Neuroscience. 2014; doi:10.1038/nn.3850