Research

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Columbia University

1. Overview

The Columbia University Medical Center in New York is an international leader in basic, preclinical, and clinical research; medical and health sciences education and patient care. It is one of the largest faculty medical practices in the Northeast of the USA. Mars, Incorporated began its partnership with Columbia University Medical Center for a study into the effects of cocoa flavanols on the brain. This research was published in October 2014 in the journal Nature Neuroscience and was a collaboration between scientists from Mars and Columbia University, as well as New York University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

2. Partnership outcomes

Intake of flavanols improves cognitive function

The 2014 research published in Nature Neuroscience showed that a diet high in cocoa flavanols could improve the function of an area of the brain associated with memory called the dentate gyrus. Memory declines as people get older and researchers believed that worsening dentate gyrus function could be an explanation. In a randomized controlled trial, a group of 50-69 year-olds consumed a diet high in cocoa flavanols. After three months, they performed a specially designed cognitive task that tested dentate gyrus function and had their brains scanned using fMRI. Dentate gyrus function had significantly improved when compared with a similar group that had been consuming a diet with much lower cocoa flavanol content. We found that the people who had been consuming a high-flavanol diet showed cognitive function roughly equivalent to someone three decades younger. Since the study participants’ performance in cognitive tests improved when dentate gyrus function improved, the study provides additional evidence for the theory that age-related dentate gyrus dysfunction does play a role in memory loss. It also demonstrates that cocoa flavanols could help maintain dentate gyrus function and therefore cognitive health as we age.

Read more about this study: Brickman, A.M., et al., Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults. Nat Neurosci, 2014