The Mild Nutrient Deficiency Linked To Memory Loss

Supplementation reversed the effects of age-related memory loss.

Supplementation reversed the effects of age-related memory loss.

A diet low in flavanols is linked to age-related memory loss, a large study finds.

However, taking a daily flavanol supplement over three years reversed these losses.

Many people already get enough flavanols from a healthy diet, however those with a poorer diet will probably benefit.

Flavanols, which are a type of flavonoid, are found in nearly all fruits and vegetables, as well as in tea.

Participants in the study with a mild flavanol deficiency experienced boosts to their cognitive functioning of 16 percent over the three years of the study.

Professor Adam Brickman, the study’s first author, said:

“The improvement among study participants with low-flavanol diets was substantial and raises the possibility of using flavanol-rich diets or supplements to improve cognitive function in older adults.”

Neurons in the hippocampus

Professor Scott Small, study co-author, has been studying age-related memory loss for many years.

His lab has shown that changes in the dentate gyrus, a part of the hippocampus, are central to memory decline.

Flavanols, though, enhance neuron and blood vessel growth in this region.

Professor Small said:

“The identification of nutrients critical for the proper development of an infant’s nervous system was a crowning achievement of 20th century nutrition science.

In this century, as we are living longer research is starting to reveal that different nutrients are needed to fortify our aging minds.”

The current study included over 3,500 healthy adults given either a flavanol supplement or a placebo over three years.

The supplement contained 500 mg of flavanols, including 80 mg of epicatechins, a type of flavanol thought to be particularly effective.

The memories of those with mild flavanol deficiencies improved by 10.5 percent compared to placebo and by 16 percent compared to their scores at the start of the study.

Dramatic improvements

While the study provides strong evidence for the benefits of a healthy dietary flavanol intake, Professor Small is cautious:

“We cannot yet definitively conclude that low dietary intake of flavanols alone causes poor memory performance, because we did not conduct the opposite experiment: depleting flavanol in people who are not deficient.”

Next, Professor Small wants to look at the effects of rectifying a severe flavanol deficiency:

“Age-related memory decline is thought to occur sooner or later in nearly everyone, though there is a great amount of variability.

If some of this variance is partly due to differences in dietary consumption of flavanols, then we would see an even more dramatic improvement in memory in people who replenish dietary flavanols when they’re in their 40s and 50s.”

High-flavanol foods

Foods that containing high levels of flavanols include:

  • pears,
  • olive oil,
  • wine,
  • tomato sauce,
  • kale,
  • beans,
  • tea,
  • spinach,
  • broccoli,
  • apples,
  • and oranges.


The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Brickman et al., 2023).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

Get free email updates

Join the free PsyBlog mailing list. No spam, ever.