Flavanols are naturally occurring antioxidants and are also found in tea leaves and in certain fruits and vegetables.

The study 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 the dentate gyrus and that this form of memory decline can be improved by a dietary intervention.

"When we imaged our research subjects' brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa flavanol drink," said lead author, Adam Brickman, associate professor at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) in US.

In the study, 37 healthy volunteers, ages 50 to 69, were randomized to receive either a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for three months.

The high-flavanol group performed significantly better on the memory test.

"If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old," senior author (CUMC), Scott A Small added.

The researchers noted that the product used in the study is not the same as chocolate, and they caution against an increase in chocolate consumption in an attempt to gain this effect.

The study appeared online in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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