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Cocoa flavanols give snail brains a boost

By Oliver Nieburg+


Snail memory improved with epicatechin
Snail memory improved with epicatechin

Cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate called epicatechin can improve the memories of snails, according to researchers.

A study published in The Journal of Experimental Biology by Lukowiak et al. found that the strength and length of snail memories could be enhanced by  exposure to epicatechin, a flavonoid found in chocolate, wine and green tea.

The research adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests epicatechin can boost brain function. (See HERE )

Snails were chosen as it was considered near impossible to determine how a small component of chocolate would affect human memory because of numerous external factors.

Breathing tests

To reach their conclusions, the researchers trained the molluscs to close their breathing holes when dunked in water to see if those that had been exposed to epicatechin would remeber to keep breathing holes shut.

What is epicatechin?

Epicatechin is a flavanol found in plants such as cocoa, grapes and tea.

The snails were trained to keep the holes shut by gently tapping them.

When the snails were unexposed to epicatechin, the researchers found that a half-hour training session helped the snails to form immediate-term memories, lasting about three hours, but not long-term memories, lasting over a day.

However, when exposed to epicatechin, the snails remembered to keep breathing holes closed in every session for three days.

Lasting memory

Lukowiak et al. then tested to see if the epicatechin-trained snails’ memory could be overwritten by teaching them to open their breathing tubes in the water.

However, the snails refused to open their breathing holes meaning the memory induced by epicatechin was too strong to extinguish.

The researchers said that their findings provide the groundwork for future molecular analysis of how epicatechin acts at the neuronal level and the mechanisms involved in the alterations to memory formation, storage and extinction.

J. Exp. Biol. 215, 3566-3576. (2012) 
doi: 10.1242/​jeb.070300
'A flavonol present in cocoa [(–)epicatechin] enhances snail memory'
Authors: Fruson, L., Dalesman, S. and Lukowiak, K. 

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