A flavonoid found in cocoa beans could mean the difference between remembering and forgetting, according to a 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.
Epi: 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, help protect against certain types of neuronal death, and, according to this 2012 study, significantly improve long-term memory.
Measuring memory in snails
Hotchkiss researchers first observed how many times the 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.
To measure whether the snails learned from the training experience, the experimenters repeated the poking task 24 hours later and compared how many pokes they performed.
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 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 day 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.
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! Train regularly with Lumosity games such as Familiar Faces, which is also designed to help you improve your long term memory.
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