Engineers roundtable debates, episode 1: are cocoa flavanols legit?

As part of the Engineers Roundtable Series, we have our first topic: cocoa flavanols and their alleged abilities to enhance memory.

Raw cocoa beans are used in coffee, red wine, and even chocolates. One of the components present in cocoa beans is cocoa flavanols. Some plants and vegetables also consist of this beneficial compound, which are good for health. Cocoa enthusiasts are saying its worth the hype.

These are antioxidants that help in recovering age-related memory decline. In the past, this antioxidant was given to mice, in which enhancement in their memory functioning, and improvement in the neuronal connection in their dentate gyrus was seen.

As we grow older, our memory tends to deteriorate, and lower activity is seen in dentate gyrus region of the brain. However, there is a way to reverse this memory loss, which was tested on humans by Columbia University Medical Center researchers in New York.(1) Dentate gyrus region in brain is responsible for memory functioning, and hence, the consumption of cocoa flavanols boosts activity in that region, and can reverse memory up to 2 to 3 decades, according to a recent study that was published in Nature Neuroscience.(2)

The Study

Before this study, no attempt was made to reverse the effect of memory loss that is caused because of aging, according to

There were 40 healthy adult participants in the study, who were falling in the age bracket of 50 to 75. These participants were given cocoa flavenol in the liquid form with high and low doses, which was prepared in the lab, for 12 weeks. After the given time period, improvement was seen in the parts of the brain that deals with memory functioning. The participants also reported enhancement in their memory by the end of 12 weeks.

Patter recognition test, memory skills, and flow of blood in hippocampus region of the participants were tested before the study began in order to compare it with the  posttest results later on. Two groups of participants were made. One was given high dose of cocoa flavanols, and the other was given a lesser dose. These groups were further divided into subgroups in which half had to attend a routine aerobic exercise classes, and half were inactive.

After the completion of three months, the brains of the participants were scanned for the posttest. According to the results, the group that consumed high-dose (900 milligrams) of cocoa flavanols on daily basis with 138-milligram epicatechin showed improvement in their memory skills and greater flow of blood in dentate gyrus. The result of better memory was irrespective of whether they worked-out or not, or had a greater flow of blood in the dentate gyrus region.

In Conclusion

The study mentioned above elaborates on the importance of cocoa flavanols, and how with changes in your diet and lifestyle, you can restructure the functioning of a normal process like memory decline because of aging. This tells us that we can improve our health even without the pharmaceutical. This antioxidant is found in a lot of substance. However, chocolates may not be the right source, as they only possess 5% to 7% of cocoa flavanols (dark chocolate contain up to 30%). Moreover, there are many other products in chocolate that can negate the positive effect of cocoa flavanols.