Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature
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Dementia is one of the most devastating afflictions and it’s set to rise inexorably as populations age. The syndrome, characterised in most cases by a decline in memory loss, rocks families up and down the country. Although the relationship between diet and brain decline is complex, certain items have been shown to boost cognitive health, which may confer some protection.
One of the most surprising findings in this space is the role eating dark chocolate may potentially play in boosting cognitive function.
“There is good evidence that cocoa flavonoids can acutely improve cognitive function in humans, possibly via mechanisms such as increased cerebral blood flow,” wrote researchers in a study published in the journal Nutrients.
Flavonoids can be found in dark chocolate and cocoa, among other foods.
The aim of the present study was to explore whether benefits to episodic verbal memory and mood are observed two hours post-consumption of a commercially available dark chocolate bar relative to a 35 g white chocolate bar.
Ninety-eight healthy young adults aged 18-24 years consumed either a 35 g DC bar or a calorie-matched low flavonoid white chocolate bar.
Verbal episodic memory and mood were assessed pre consumption and two hours post-consumption.
An analysis showed that the dark chocolate bar was associated with better verbal memory performance for “several outcome measures” when compared to the white chocolate bar, the researchers wrote.
“However, there were no effects on mood.”
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The researchers concluded: “These findings lend support to the notion that everyday available portions of dark chocolate can confer benefits to the brain in healthy consumers.”
The link is far from conclusive
Several studies have linked chocolate consumption to improved cognitive markers, but no definitive conclusions can be drawn.
A review published in Frontiers in Nutrition analysed the evidence to date that flavanols may benefit human brain function.
Flavanols are a form of flavonoids, plant-based substances that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Among the review’s key findings was long-term consumption may be helpful.
One study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those taking a cocoa supplement with high flavanol content for three months had better performance on tests of memory than those assigned to take a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.
Several studies demonstrated evidence of improved brain blood flow, oxygen levels, or nerve function as measured by imaging tests or tests of electrical activity in the brain after the consumption of cocoa drinks.
But because these changes were not routinely associated with improved performance on cognitive tasks, it’s hard to connect the results directly to better brain function.
Ultimately, the authors suggest that while these findings are encouraging and intriguing, more research is needed, especially since most studies so far have been small and many were unable to eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect.
In addition, these studies cannot account for many other variables that can affect brain function (such as medical problems, cognitive function at baseline, or medication use).
Other ways to reduce your risk
Doing regular physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of dementia.
“It’s good for your heart, circulation, weight and mental wellbeing,” notes the Alzheimer’s Society (AS).
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