Scientists announced on Sunday that flavanols – bioactive ingredients found in cocoa – had a significant impact on age-related memory decline.
Experiments performed on a group of volunteers showed that these compounds sharply reversed the slump in memory brought on by aging.
Over a test period of three months, 37 healthy volunteers from the ages of 50-69 were given a daily dose of a specially-prepared cocoa drink containing either 900 milligrammes or 10mg of flavanols.
The scientists then conducted brain imaging procedures, by which they measured the volume of blood in the dentate gyrus, which is an important part of the hippocampus.
The hippocampus is an area of the brain responsible for memory formation. The performance of this region generally declines with the onset of advanced age.
Memory tests involving 20-minute pattern-recognition exercises were also conducted before and after the participants began taking the drink.
The test group drinking the cocoa with the high-flavanol content registered remarkable improvements to their memory, as well as an increase in blood flow to the dentate gyrus.
“If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old,” said Scott Small, a professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
“I suppose that our study does show, for the first time, that flavanols improves the function of humans’ dentate gyrus, particularly in ageing humans,” he added
Small cautioned, however, that although early findings have proven hopeful, more work – within a bigger test group – is necessary in order to prove these observations.
The experiment was published by the journal Nature Neuroscience.