April 11, 2013

Improving Long Term Memory From What We Eat

A flavonoid found in cocoa beans could mean the difference between remembering and forgetting, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Scientists from the Hotchkiss Brain Insitute in Calgary linked the flavonoid (-)epicatechin (or epi for short) to the formation of long-term memory.

Dietary consumption of flavonoids (plant phytochemicals) may improve memory and neuro-cognitive performance, though the mechanism is poorly understood. Previous studies looked at their cognitive effects in vertebrates; but this 2012 study used an invertebrate model to elucidate the effects of flavonoids on cognition.

Epicatechin is an edible, natural chemical. Found in cocoa beans, green tea, blueberries, and red wine, epi is a plant-based phytochemical associated with memory and neural performance. Research from a variety of labs has found that epi may play a role in the regeneration of neurons, helping protect against certain types of neuronal death, and, according to this 2012 study, significantly improve long-term memory.

THE STUDY: Measuring memory in snails
Hotchkiss researchers first observed how many times snails opened their breathing holes in a standard environment—this formed the baseline. They then spent 30 minutes training the snails in a simple task: whenever a snail opened its breathing hole, a researcher gently poked that hole with a stick.

There was one secret ingredient to success, however: half of the snails were submerged in regular pondwater during the training period, and half the snails were submerged in water mixed with epi flavonoids. Because snails breathe directly through their skin, the group of epi-exposed snails quickly absorbed the flavonoid directly into their central nervous systems. This gave scientists a simple, reliable way to measure the chemical’s affects.

THE EFFECTS: Flavonoids boost memory days later
And the flavonoid had pronounced effects. Though the pondwater and the epi groups behaved similarly 24 hours after training, they displayed crucial differences in memory after 72 hours.

72 hours after flavonoid exposure, the epi-exposed snails still opened their breathing holes at significantly less than their baseline rate—indicating that they remembered events that had happened 3 days prior, and that they learned to avoid pokes based on those memories. The control group demonstrated no such memory after 72 hours.

Because both groups of snails underwent the same half-hour training, scientists postulated that the epi played a key role in forming and enhancing that long-term memory.

CONCLUSION: Epi and your long-term memory
Though still preliminary, this Hotchkiss Brain Institute paper shows promise for the future study of epi flavonoids. It moves us another step forward in identifying lifestyle habits that can positively affect cognition.

Chocolate and other epi-rich foods may give your memory a boost, but remember to supplement a brain-healthy diet with other healthy habits! Exercising regularly and aiming for a minimum of 3 exercise sessions per week with each lasting a minimum of 30 minutes is quite a healthy style of living.

Chocolate contains more than 300 substances, including caffeine in small quantities, and theobromine, a weaker stimulant. Some argue these two chemicals form the basis of the much-touted chocolate high, postulating that they increase activity of key neurotransmitters. The stimulant phenylethylamine, which is related chemically to amphetamines, is also in chocolate.

Related: More articles on health and well-being

The above post is edited from material published by Journal of Experimental Biology as available here. It is also indexed by the US National Library of Medicine's PubMed as available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23014569. Note: Material is edited for content and length.

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