Flavanol-rich diet may improve memory in older adults

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Consuming a diet rich in flavanols, nutrients found in certain fruits and vegetables, may help prevent age-related memory loss, according to a large-scale study led by researchers at Columbia and Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Harvard.

What Did the Study Involve?

Over 3,500 healthy older adults were randomly assigned to receive a daily flavanol supplement (in pill form) or placebo for three years.

The supplement contained 500 mg of flavanols, including 80 mg epicatechins.

The participants completed a survey assessing the quality of their diet and performed a series of web-based activities to evaluate types of short-term memory governed by the hippocampus. These tests were repeated after one, two, and three years.

What Were the Findings?

The study found that participants who reported a poor diet and had lower baseline levels of flavanols saw their memory scores increase by an average of 10.5% compared to placebo, and 16% compared to their memory at baseline, after one year of taking the flavanol supplement.

This improvement was sustained for at least two more years.

The findings suggest that a deficiency in flavanols could be a factor in age-related memory loss, as flavanol consumption correlated with memory scores, and flavanol supplements improved memory in flavanol-deficient adults.

Why is This Important?

These findings support the emerging idea that the aging brain, like the developing brain, requires specific nutrients for optimal health.

Identifying the nutrients necessary to support our aging minds is an increasingly important field of study as life expectancies continue to increase.

While more research is required to definitively conclude that low dietary intake of flavanols alone causes poor memory performance, this study provides evidence suggesting a flavanol-rich diet or supplements could potentially be used to improve cognitive function in older adults, especially those with a deficiency in flavanols.

The study was published in PNAS.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about how the Mediterranean diet could protect your brain health, and blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about antioxidants that could help reduce dementia risk, and Coconut oil could help improve cognitive function in Alzheimer’s.

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