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Dietary components play critical roles in cognitive function as we age. A new study shows that flavanols – bioactive compounds found in tea, apples, berries, grapes, cocoa, and other fruits and vegetables – improve memory. People who took a flavanol-rich cocoa supplement performed better on memory tests than those who didn’t.

Researchers conducted a three-year study involving more than 3,500 older adults. Half of the participants received a cocoa extract containing 500 milligrams of flavanols daily, while the other half received a placebo. The researchers gave the participants memory tests before and after the intervention, and they assessed the participants' overall diet quality using the Healthy Eating Index.

They found that people with higher flavanol intake and better overall diet quality at the beginning of the study had better memory performance, particularly in tasks involving the hippocampus – the area of the brain responsible for memory consolidation. However, after one year of intervention, the researchers found that memory improved among those with lower diet quality or low flavanol intake.

These findings suggest that low dietary flavanol intake contributes to age-related cognitive decline, specifically hippocampal-dependent memory, but flavanol supplementation counteracts these effects. They also underscore the importance of including flavanol-rich foods in the diet throughout the lifespan for optimal cognitive performance.

Evidence suggests flavanols promote angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), which is crucial for adequate blood flow to the brain. Learn how blood flow to the brain influences cognitive function in this episode featuring Dr. Axel Montagne.

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