You've already heard that eating a little bit of dark chocolate every day is good for you — it can raise your good cholesterol, lower your bad cholesterol, and has been linked to weight loss. Well, now there's yet another excuse to eat your favorite, no-longer-guilty pleasure: A new study suggests that a compound found in chocolate, dietary cocoa flavanols, can reverse the process of age-related memory loss.
Scientists at Columbia University Medical Center found that the flavanols increase connectivity and blood flow in a region of the brain critical to memory. Researchers asked 37 participants ranging in age from 50 to 69 to drink either a high-flavanol mixture or a low-flavanol mixture. Subjects who drank the high-flavanol solution performed better on a pattern-recognition test designed to gauge memory, and showed increased function the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain's hippocampus associated with memory.
Researchers concluded that if a participant had the memory of an average 60-year-old before the study, after three months that person's memory would work more like that of a 30- or 40-year-old, on average.
It's important to note that the study was financed in part by the chocolate company Mars, Inc. Yes, a company that makes chocolate candy is telling you that it's good for your brain.
Does this mean you should start stocking up on delicious Mars chocolate products for yourself instead of trick-or-treaters?
The New York Times thinks not:
To consume the high-flavanol group's daily dose of epicatechin, 138 milligrams, would take eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day — about seven average-sized bars. Or possibly about 100 grams of baking chocolate or unsweetened cocoa powder, but concentrations vary widely depending on the processing. Milk chocolate has most epicatechin processed out of it. "You would have to eat a large amount of chocolate," along with its fat and calories, said Hagen Schroeter, director of fundamental health and nutrition research for Mars, which funds many flavanol studies and approached Dr. Small for this one. "Candy bars don't even have a lot of chocolate in them," Dr. Schroeter said. And "most chocolate uses a process called dutching and alkalization. That's like poison for flavanol."
The scientists have more research planned on the relationship between cocoa flavanols and memory, so it's our hope that at some point they can develop a tasty, healthy, memory-rebuilding treat. But for now, unfortunately, there's just not enough evidence to justify eating chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — no matter how much we'd like to.