Monday, November 3, 2014

Age related memory loss-Can it be reversed?

Who does not like to be alert and enjoy unfettered memory even during old age? It is a dream every old person cherishes because of the frustrating days when memory loss affects practically every activity associated with normal living. Dementia and Alzheimer's are dreaded words in the dictionary of old people but with progressive aging, decreased brain activity controlling the memory process cannot be avoided altogether though different people have different rate of memory deterioration. If recent scientific studies are taken into reckoning there is hope for those afflicted by memory loss by consuming plant flavanols especially those present in natural cocoa. This development may have lot of implications for geriatric population but there are several riders for using flavanol therapy for improved memory. Here is a take on this issue and read what the scientists say about this phenomenon.

"Do you forget where you left your keys or parked the car, or have difficulty remembering the names of people you've just met? The good news is that chocolate – or more specifically, naturally occurring compounds in cocoa called flavanols – can reverse age-related memory decline in healthy older adults, according to a Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) study. As we get older, most of us will experience some issues with memory. These changes start in early adulthood but aren't usually noticeable until we reach our fifties or sixties. Flavanols are a subgroup of flavanoids, compounds that provide a range of health benefits. They are also found naturally in tea leaves, red wine and some fruits and vegetables. In the CUMC study, participants who had a high-flavanol diet for three months performed significantly better on a 20-minute pattern recognition memory test than participants on a low-flavanol diet. FMRI brain imaging showed that participants on the high-flavanol diet exhibited noticeable improvements in memory in the part of the brain associated with normal age related memory decline, the dentate gyrus. This is a different part of the hippocampus to that affected by early stage Alzheimer's disease, the entorhinal cortex. "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," says the study's senior author Dr Scott Small. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, provides the first direct evidence that this natural process of ageing, caused by changes in a specific region of the brain, can be improved by diet – and may avoid the need for pharmaceutical intervention. Despite the positive findings, the researchers caution against increasing chocolate consumption. While cocoa flavanols are abundant in the cacao plant and fresh cocoa beans, most methods of processing remove many of the flavanols found in the raw plant. Factors such as the amount of time the bean spends in and out of the pod after harvest, the amount of fermentation (a key step to develop "chocolate" flavor), and the type of drying used can all affect the level of flavanols, so even raw cacao products may not be particularly high in flavanols."

It is amusing to see the cocoa/chocolate industry promoting chocolates claiming umpteen number of benefits if their products are consumed regularly. Sadly these claims are ill founded because most of the chocolate products do not contain much flavanols which are destroyed during the conversion of cocoa pod into chocolate products. The original pods are allowed to be fermented by typical bacterial population present in ripe cocoa pulp and then the beans are dried and severely roasted, cracked, nibs ground for long hours into fine cocoa mass before preparing chocolate products. During such a rigorous processing regime flavanols present in the original pod are bound to be adversely affected significantly. Added to this, extra fat and sugar are incorporated to make chocolates extremely appealing to the human palate. It is a dangerous thing to consume such chocolates generously and what it can contribute to is only dental decay and other sugar and fat related diseases!  Bitter chocolate products containing cocoa solids upwards of 70% are comparatively much better containing at least small concentration of flavanols besides low levels of white sugar. The million dollar question is how to get highly concentrated falavanol preparations from natural cocoa pods. Scientists who made the above disclosures regarding the beneficial impact of flavanols used a specially prepared extracts from green pods provided by the industry. Whether chocolate industry will be overwhelmed by demand from health conscious consumers for flavanol rich products rather than good tasting conventional chocolate products is some thing one has to wait and see!


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