Show Me the Science: Leading Researchers Question Real Value of “Brain Games”
What: A large number of leading researchers in the field of brain science released a joint consensus statement on the limited value of brain fitness software as demonstrated by the current state of the science. The statement, spearheaded by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, formalizes concerns raised consistently over the years within the brain health community (including by Total Brain Health) regarding the scientific validity of the claims made on behalf of the commercially available digital brain games.
Why It Matters: The digital brain fitness industry has grown by leaps and bounds, with future market share estimated to reach $6 billion US by 2020 (Sharp Brains, 2013). However, the booming space of “brain games” has been driven primarily by perceived consumer demand and resulting capital investment, rather than by the science. Studies to date on the benefits of brain gaming have been small, experimental, and have not demonstrated any real or meaningful impact on long-term dementia risk. While such exercise programs may have benefit for the maintenance of everyday intellectual skills, the science is still young and the popularity and commercialization of the training programs has far outstripped the available evidence.
The Takeaway: When leading researchers come together like this and offer up a big “whoa,” it’s a good idea to listen. While you don’t need to cancel that subscription or delete the app for your favorite brain game, understand that it may be more fun than science. Finally, perhaps this is a good time to remind you what we’ve been saying for years – the science shows us there are many steps we need to take to stay sharp and lower our risk for memory loss, so why not start focusing on those instead (see the Total Brain Health® blueprint if you need a guide)?
Can I Dip That In Chocolate? Pilot Study Suggests Chocolate May Benefit Brain Health
What: Researchers at Columbia University recently reported that subjects ages 50-69 years who drank a beverage high in cocoa flavanols performed on average 25% better on tests of memory than those in a low-flavanol beverage comparison group. In addition, participants in the high-flavanol group showed increased activity in the dentate gyrus, an area of the brain associated with pattern learning and memory.
Why This Matters: This study has received an amazing amount of attention, probably in no small part due to the fact that it involves a beloved indulgence – who doesn’t want an excuse to eat more chocolate? While the study does demonstrate a potential link between cocoa flavanols, a known anti-oxidant, and cognitive function, there are several caveats to bear in mind, not the least of which is that the study had only 37 participants. In addition, the beverage used contained a much higher concentration of the brain-boosting material than what is found in commercial chocolate. Finally, the study was funded in part by Mars, a leading candy maker.
The Takeaway: Cocoa is a berry, and a natural source of anti-oxidants, which as a group have been previously associated with successful aging in several studies. While this study shows an interesting possible pathway for the nutritional benefits of cocoa, it is not enough to justify raiding your child’s Halloween candy stash and making off with all the chocolate (sorry). You’d not only have to eat a lot of it – a whole lot – but it would also have to be unsweetened and probably unprocessed cocoa. Stay tuned, however, as we have heard that the Columbia University researchers plan to see if these findings can be replicated in a larger sample. And we promise to cover it! Volunteers, anyone?