Chocolate may turn out to be the secret to keeping your mind sharp as you age, but a top doctor is warning not to hit your candy stash just yet.
A new study made headlines recently when it was found that seniors could improve their memory by drinking a special concoction containing a high concentration of certain chemicals found in cocoa called flavonoids. In some cases, the drink gave 60 year olds the memory of 30 or 40 year olds.
Gary Small, M.D., one of the nation’s top brain researchers, called the study “encouraging,” but he warned that because it involved only 37 people, it is far too small to be conclusive.
“This is an interesting study, and it’s consistent with previous research, but more research is needed,” said Dr. Small, professor of psychiatry and aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
The study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that one component of age-related memory decline in humans is caused by changes in a specific region of the brain and that the decline can be improved by a dietary intervention.
But Dr. Small also noted that the study showed that while flavonoids might reverse memory changes that occur with normal aging, the research also showed the mixture had no effect on the brain changes that occur in Alzheimer’s disease.
“The brains of people who drank the mixture showed increased activity in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus,” he said.
This area involves the type of memory that helps us remember such things as where we parked our car or connects names with faces. It is this type of memory that declines with age, even in healthy adults.
Given the study, Dr. Small said he expects manufacturers are already racing to get products containing cocoa flavonoids on the market, but “that doesn’t mean they will work,” he warned.
He also cautioned against eating chocolate in hopes of aiding memory. The drink used in the study contains a concentrated dosage of flavonoids that is near impossible to get by eating candy.
“If you start eating massive quantities of chocolate to get enough flavonoid in your brain this means you are ingesting a lot of unhealthy fats,” Dr. Small said.
Dr. Small, author of Dr. Gary Small’s Mind Health Report
newsletter and the bestselling book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program
, recommends the following steps to keep the brain sharp:
· Control calorie intake and keep weight within normal limits. Weight gain increases diabetes risk, high cholesterol, triglycerides, and other factors that cause inflammation, which impairs brain health.
· Eat lots of leafy vegetables and fruits, especially berries, which also contain flavonoids, but are healthier and lower in fat and sugar than chocolate.
· Restrict the amount of red meat, whole milk, ice cream, and other foods that cause inflammation, and instead opt for foods that contain inflammation-slashing omega-3 fatty acids. These include fish, flax seed, and walnuts.
· Minimize refined sugar and processed foods like chips and crackers, and stick to healthy grains instead. Processed foods and refined sugars increase risk of diabetes and double risk of Alzheimer’s.
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