Memory loss and cocoa flavanols

August 28, 2015 - By 


memory loss



Memory loss

Have you ever been aware of (or concerned about) memory loss? If you are over 45 and can answer no to these two questions you are in a minority. Memory loss, in some degree, is pretty much a reality for all of us as we enter middle age and beyond. Mostly it’s not much of a problem. It’s those “where did I put my keys?” or “what was that film called?” moments. We are aware of them but they don’t really concern us in the early stages.

Then, for some of us, these moments start becoming more frequent and begin to get a  little irritating. For me it’s names. When someone I don’t know well greets me by my first name and I cannot respond in kind, that’s embarrassing. It forces me to actually acknowledge that my memory is no longer the obedient servant it once was.

I am now starting to notice other small things about my memory. I can still remember pretty much what I need to. It’s just that there is a small delay between me calling up something I need from my memory and it being delivered to my brain. It’s not a big deal right now, but it is another sign that my memory is on a downward trajectory. That’s a little depressing. Especially so when it seems to be accepted wisdom that memory loss is normal and we just have to live with it.



Severe and chronic memory loss

And then, of course, there are those who are suffering much more serious loss of memory. These are usually elderly people but not always. These are people for whom loss of memory is debilitating and affects the way they live their lives in many cases. They often end up relying on other people’s assistance in simple daily tasks. They also suffer extreme frustration as they involuntarily withdraw from involvement with friends and family. Memory plays a crucial part in how we interrelate with other human beings. This is often based on shared experience. When memory loss erases shared experience those relationships are gone.

Memory loss is also associated with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia and sometimes the association is correct. More often than not memory loss is not associated with those diseases. If you are concerned there are some fairly obvious pointers which can help in making this type of diagnosis. Below this is a small test which will give you an idea.


What type of memory loss do you have?

This is a very simple list of memory related symptoms which define some differences between old age type memory loss and early Alzheimer’s type memory loss

Courtesy of

Signs of Alzheimer’s Typical age-related changes
Poor judgment and decision making Making a bad decision once in a while
Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting which day it is and remembering later
Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time



Causes of memory loss

Outside of a specific disease like Alzheimer’s, memory loss can be caused a number of factors including:

  • Poor sleep or lack of sleep
  • Sleep Apnea and/or snoring
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Medication (incl. sleeping pills, anti histamines, anti anxieties, antidepressants, painkillers, anti cholesterol, diabetes medication, statins)
  • Nutritional deficiencies (lack of B12 especially)
  • Head injury
  • Infections (of brain including neurosyphilis)
  • Brain tumor

Many of the causes listed above result in the brain (or parts of it) being starved of oxygen due to poor or restricted blood flow. The brain is especially vulnerable to blocked or reduced blood flow depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. This is commonly manifested in loss of memory and generally lower cognitive performance.

One conclusion which could be drawn from this is that if blood flow to the brain and specific areas within it can be improved or restored, improvements in memory and cognitive performance might result. A secondary and less obvious conclusion is that areas of the brain ‘damaged’ by oxygen and nutrient deprivation might be “healed” to an extent by a restoration of some blood flow to that area.




The Columbia test

“NEW YORK, NY (October 26, 2014)—Dietary cocoa flavanols—naturally occurring bioactives found in cocoa—reversed age-related memory decline in healthy older adults, according to a study led by Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) scientists.”

Columbia University Medical Centre Newsroom

“The study, published today in the advance online issue of 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 this form of memory decline can be improved by a dietary intervention.”

The precursor to this study was work by Scott A. Small, MD which showed that that age related memory decline was associated with changes in a specific part of the brain called the Dentate Gyrus. Cocoa flavanols had earlier been shown to improve neuronal connections in the dentate gyrus of mice. So the CUMC scientists embarked on a study to see whether cocoa flavanols could improve the function of the human dentate gyrus and at the same time improve memory.

The study produced some quite remarkable results with special imaging techniques showing marked improvement in the dentate gyrus and marked improvement in memory and cognitive function. The improvements were very dose dependent with the subjects receiving the highest doses showing the most improvement. (incidentally the  subjects also showed marked cardiovascular benefits)

“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” said Dr. Small.

“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 PhD.



So what does this mean?

Very simply this means that memory loss (when not related to diseases like Alzheimer’s) is treatable with cocoa flavanol concentrates. A lot of work still needs to be done in this area, but you can go ahead and take it. Because cocoa flavanols are a simple extract from raw Cacao beans (and not a manufactured drug) they are quite safe. If you have ever eaten dark chocolate you have already eaten cocoa flavanols. But you have never had the dosages necessary to achieve results like those in the test above.

The Kuna Indians (inadvertently) consume significant quantities of cocoa flavanols every day as part of their diet. They show remarkable health and are almost completely free from the western diseases associated with high blood pressure throughout their lives. You can read about the Kuna at this post. Cocoa and the Kuna Indians

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