It may be possible to boost memory with a plant compound called epicatechin, which is found in foods and drinks including blueberries, grapes, tea, and cocoa.
That's according to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
The researchers included Fred Gage, PhD, of the genetics lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif.
In a series of lab tests, Gage's team studied epicatechin, which is a type of antioxidant called a flavonol, in female mice.
Some of the mice drank or ate water or chow laced with epicatechin and ran on a running wheel for two hours daily.
Other mice ran on a running wheel but didn't get epicatechin. Another group of mice had no running wheel and got no epicatechin in their food or water.
After six weeks, the researchers tried to train the mice to navigate a watery maze. The mice were supposed to find a hidden platform in the maze within 40 seconds.
The mice that consumed epicatechin did better at memorizing the maze than the mice that got no epicatechin. The mice that consumed epicatechin and also ran on their running wheels had the best results of all.
The findings suggest that epicatechin may help spatial memory, especially when coupled with exercise, note Gage and colleagues.
Exactly how epicatechin does that isn't clear. But the researchers found signs of blood vessel growth in the brains of the mice that consumed epicatechin. Better blood flow to memory-related brain areas may have helped the mice remember the maze.
One of the researchers works for Mars Inc., which makes cocoa products and supplied the study's epicatechin. The study was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency.