Flavanols and brain health

As a neuroscientist who previously trained as a dietitian, I am always fascinated by the intersections of neuroscience and nutrition. A recent study (link to the study) caught my attention – it focused on FLAVANOLS, compounds found naturally in foods like apples, berries, and even cocoa.

This intriguing research highlighted that flavanol intake could affect the ability to learn new information and recall it later – a type of memory managed by a specific part of our brain called the hippocampus. In this study, older adults who consumed fewer flavanols struggled more with this type of memory than those who ate more flavanols. Moreover, increasing flavanol intake in the low-consuming group, using an extract packed with cocoa flavanols, was associated with better memory performance.

What could be driving these effects on memory performance? Here are some exciting possibilities currently being studied in cells, animal models and humans:

1️⃣ Cardiovascular Impact: Just as good road conditions improve the delivery and pickup of goods, flavanols might improve blood flow to our brain, aiding in the efficient delivery of nutrients and waste removal, potentially enhancing cognitive performance.

2️⃣ Antioxidant Effects: Flavanols (as other dietary compounds) could act like tiny bodyguards in our brain, warding off harmful oxidative stress and protecting our brain cells, potentially leading to better memory.

3️⃣ Microbiome Interactions: Flavanols might interact with our gut microbes, influencing our brain health potentially by promoting the growth of “good” gut microbes, the production of beneficial compounds by gut microbes (e.g. short-chain fatty acids), which may have beneficial effects on the brain.

4️⃣ Neuroinflammation Modulation: Flavanols may help reduce the heat of neuroinflammation, often implicated in cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.

5️⃣ Neurogenesis Promotion: Flavanols might encourage our brain to produce new neurons, especially in parts crucial for memory like the hippocampus, further supporting cognitive function.

There could be even more driving the potential effects of flavanols on memory performance. Also, some of these possible ways of action still need to be proven in humans as they are still in the early stages of research. However, this opens many exciting doors for future investigation.

The potential cognitive benefits of flavanols are exciting. One key takeaway is that our diet profoundly impacts our brain health. This underscores the importance of a balanced, varied diet. 🧠 🥗

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