The news: Not that you ever need an excuse to eat chocolate, but in case you do, here's a good one for you.
Researchers have previously found that dark chocolate (coupled with your own gut bacteria) has great anti-inflammatory effects on your heart. Now a new study led by Columbia University Medical Center and published in Nature Neuroscience has found that dietary flavanols, the naturally occurring compounds in tea, cocoa and some vegetables, are good for you in another way: The improve your memory.
"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," lead author Adam M. Brickman said in a statement.
The study reveals important things about the human brain. The aim of the study was twofold: to determine whether the dentate gyrus is the area of the brain where age-related decline happens and to test whether flavanols have an effect on mitigating this process.
On both accounts, the answer was yes: The results of brain imaging and memory tests revealed that among the 37 study participants, those on the high-flavanol diet had noticeable improvements. "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," found Dr. Scott A. Small.
The researchers point out that the findings are preliminary. After all, the scale was rather small, and the study the financed in part by a chocolate company. And because most chocolate-makers remove flavanols when they process cocoa, gorging on chocolate is not really going to help you improve your memory. Still, the study represents a promising lead for memory-related research and some intriguing benefits for everyone's favorite treat.