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Flavanols—the secret to staying sharp as we get older

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Flavanols, anti-inflammatory nutrients in vegetables and fruits, can reverse ‘cognitive aging’ and memory loss as we get older.

Consuming around 500 mg of flavanols every day—the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea, and eating two servings of berries or apples, and six squares of dark chocolate—can reverse the neurological damage that can happen as we age, especially if we’re eating a poor diet.  

Researchers from Columbia University saw brain markers of cognitive aging reverse in a group of 3,562 over-60s when they took a 500g cocoa flavanol supplement every day for three years, although improvements were seen after just a year, compared to those who were given a dummy placebo supplement.

Those taking the flavanol supplements were recording an average 10.5 percent higher scores in memory tests after the first year compared to the placebo group, and brain scans showed an improvement in the hippocampus area of the brain, which regulates memory and the ability to learn new skills.

People who were already consuming a flavanol-rich diet didn’t see any further cognitive improvement, however.

Just as the young brain needs specific nutrients to help it develop, the aging brain needs flavanols to maintain cognition and memory function, the researchers say.

Flavanols are found in tea, cocoa, apples and citrus fruit, berries, leafy vegetables, onions, dark chocolate, and red wine.

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References
PNAS, 2023; 120: e2216932120
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