First-of-its-kind study confirms link between flavanol deficiency and age-related memory decline

A study reveals that a diet low in flavanols contributes to age-related memory loss, while flavanol supplementation improves memory in deficient adults.
Kavita Verma
Flavanols identified as essential nutrients for cognitive health
Flavanols identified as essential nutrients for cognitive health

iStock/happy_lark  

A diet deficient in flavanols, nutrients present in several fruits and vegetables, has been linked to age-related memory loss in a significant study conducted by scientists at Columbia and Brigham and Women's Hospital/Harvard. 

The first-of-its-kind study found that older persons who ate modest amounts of flavanols performed worse on tests meant to measure memory loss by normal aging. However, the study also showed that slightly flavanol-deficient persons over the age of 60 showed increased performance on these memory tests after replacing these bioactive dietary components.

Flavanols: Key to cognitive health in aging adults

The research team, led by Professor Adam Brickman of Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, highlighted the significance of their findings. Brickman stated, "The improvement among study participants with low-flavanol diets was substantial and raises the possibility of using flavanol-rich diets or supplements to improve cognitive function in older adults." According to the study, certain nutrients are just as important for the growing brain as for maintaining excellent brain health in older people.

Over a 15-year period, Dr. Scott Small and his group at Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons researched connecting alterations in the dentate gyrus, a part of the brain's hippocampus essential for forming new memories, to age-related memory loss. 

Flavanols improve brain activity in the region being studied, and experiments on mice showed that they had a beneficial effect on memory by encouraging the formation of neurons and blood vessels in the hippocampus

Over a multi-year trial, 3,500 senior citizens took either a daily flavanol supplement or a placebo. Those with lower baseline flavanol levels and poorer diets saw a significant and long-lasting improvement in memory after a year.

Flavanol deficiency as a driver of memory loss

According to the study, a lack of flavanols is associated with memory decline as we age. Flavanol consumption is correlated with memory tests and helps persons with memory deficits. For people without a deficiency, it has no impact. The effects of flavanol on the brain in people with severe deficiencies are proposed to be confirmed by additional research and a clinical study.

According to Dr. Small, "Age-related memory decline is thought to occur sooner or later in nearly everyone," and he speculates that if dietary flavanol replenishment were started in one's 40s and 50s, it would even result in more dramatic memory gains. 

The study's conclusions establish the framework for future research on the nutrients essential for optimum brain function and offer insightful information about the function of particular nutrients in preserving cognitive health in aging humans.

This study brings up new opportunities for interventions meant to keep memory and cognitive capacities in older persons as the aging population keeps growing.

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