According to a new study, chocolate lovers may have a new reason to indulge in their favorite treat after researchers discovered that cocoa could help reverse memory loss that occurs in old age.

In a new study, researchers from Columbia University analyzed the brains of 37 participants ages 50 to 69 and tested their memory. The researchers teamed up with the chocolate makers Mars, Inc. to create a drink with 900 mg of flavanols, the compound found in cocoa.

The researchers asked half the participants to consume the drink every day for three months. The other half consumed only 10 mg of the drink each day, the equivalent of a quarter of a chocolate candy bar.

Led by Scott Small, a professor of neurology at Columbia's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, the researchers found that the high-flavanols group had increased visual memory and increased activity in the part of the hippocampus that is known to be affected in memory loss linked with old age.

"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 Small.

Published in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers could not identify how cocoa increases memories, but previous studies found that cocoa flavanols prevent blood vessels from hardening to decrease the risk of heart disease. The same idea could apply to what is happening in the brain.

"The cocoa flavanols are very promising and exciting in terms of their potential role for preventing heart disease, stroke and other vascular outcomes," says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who will be co-directing a cocoa flavanols study in 18,000 participants in 2015.

While the study found that cocoa could help reverse memory loss, it is not a pass to consume large amounts of chocolate candy. "This is really not about chocolate," Small says. "And it would be detrimental to one's health to try and run out and get flavanols from chocolate, which exist in chocolate, but in miniscule amounts."

It would take 25 candy bars a day to get close to the amount of flavanols the researchers found to be effective, plus the sugar and fat content in those candy bars would make consumption counter effective.

The researchers are currently working on a larger follow-up study to further explore the effect cocoa has on our memory.

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