Study links flavanols found in chocolate to improvements in memory - Not so fast

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1439838_88563868Halloween is fast approaching and we re sure you re thinking about costumes and candy. Well, if you really need any more justification to eat chocolate, you probably should not use the current research published in the journal Nature Neuroscience in which researchers from Columbia University try to show an association between consumption of flavanols from chocolate very similar to the better-known flavonoids and improvement in memory skills that are lost with age.

Researchers randomized 37 participants ages 50 to 69 into either a high-flavanol group or a low-flavanol group. The high-flavanol group consumed 900 milligrams of flavanols each day with 138 mg. of the flavanol epicatechin while the low flavanol group consumed 10 milligrams per day with less than two milligrams of epicatechin. Brain scans measuring the blood volume in the dentate gyrus - a region of the hippocampus that researchers think is linked to memory were conducted at the beginning of the study and after three months. Memory tests were also conducted. Researchers report that those in the high flavanol group performed 25 percent better on memory tests compared to those in the low-flavanol group and had increased function in the dentate gyrus.

However, the study has many limitations. First, it is extremely small: one wonders how 37 subjects can show a difference of 25 percent and have it stand up. Second, the diets of the participants were not monitored besides ensuring that they consumed the appropriate amount of flavanols. And although there was an exercise component to the study in which half of the sedentary participants in each group were told to exercise four days each week, no correlation was found between exercise and memory. So basically, according to Dr. Kenneth S. Kosik, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, It looks like I can have a lot of candy bars and not exercise.

Oh, and one more concern: you d have to eat a lot of candy bars to even possibly reap the hypothetical benefits of flavanols. A typical candy bar has only 40 mg of flavanols. In order to get the required amount of epicatechin, one would have to consume about seven to eight bars of dark chocolate every day, with the attendant load of fat and calories (Milk chocolate does not contain much epicatechin due to processing).

ACSH s Ariel Savransky adds, If you want to eat chocolate, do so in moderation. Don t consume chocolate in the hopes of improving your memory. What matters is an individual s overall diet, physical activity and caloric intake. A single ingredient is not going to have a meaningful effect on health.

ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom, whose memory is beyond terrible even on a good day wonders, Who is going to remind me to eat my quota of Hershey bars?