Tag Archives: metabolite

Nutrients in chocolate improve memory in seniors

Scientists have found that cocoa flavanols, substances found in chocolate, and to a lesser extent in blueberries, red wine, parsley and black tea have a positive impact on the memory of elders.

chocolate memory

Image via commodity online

Flavonoids are a class of plant secondary metabolites. Flavonoids were referred to as Vitamin P until 1950, but the term fell out of favor. Though there is ongoing research into the potential health benefits of individual flavonoids, neither the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has approved any flavonoids as pharmaceutical drugs. However, this new study shows definite promise in that field.

Researchers have shown that flavonoids have a positive impact on the memory formation ability of seniors. They do this probably by improving the activity of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a major component of the brains of humans and other vertebrates. Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. The area plays a key role in making new memories – as experiments have shown in the 1950s, people without the hippocampus can’t form new memories.

The thing is, just how a country can be divided into states or other areas, the hippocampus can also be divided into “geographical” areas. Some areas are particularly prone to degradation in old age – when Alzheimer’s becomes a distinct possibility; one of these areas is the dentate gyrus (or DG). It shows the most consistent changes as we age. Inspired by a study done on mice, Adam Brickman and his colleagues in Scott Small’s lab at Columbia University decided to pursue the question of whether adding cocoa flavanols to the diet of adults aged 50-69 could improve DG functionality.

Image credits: Brickman et al, 2014.

They split participants into 2 groups – one which was given 900 mg of cocoa flavanols per day, whereas others took only 45 mg per day. After three months, they put the groups take the same test, designe specifically to assess DG functionality.

The results were pretty clear. The group who was consuming more cocoa flavanols performed considerably better on the test – with reaction times that were almost a full second quicker than adults in the low-flavanol group. Furthermore, subjects within the high-flavanol showed higher cerebral blood volumes in the DG, which also indicates an increased activity in the area of the brain. Big increases in blood supply meant big decreases in reaction time.

It’s not yet clear if the effect is strong enough to justify the development of a new drug based on flavanols – but in the meantime, it’s pretty clear: chocolate is your friend.

Reference: Enhancing dentate gyrus function with dietary flavanols improves cognition in older adults (2014) Adam M Brickman, Usman A Khan, Frank A Provenzano, Lok-Kin Yeung, Wendy Suzuki, Hagen Schroeter, Melanie Wall, Richard P Sloan & Scott A Small. Nature Neuroscience, 17 1798-1803.

Medical breakthrough: chemical composition of human urine determined



It may come as a shock to you to find out that the chemical make-up of human urine hasn’t been identified until now – but it shouldn’t. The study which led to this breakthrough took over seven years and involved 20 researchers; in the end, it revealed over 3.000 metabolites (small molecules resulted through metabolism). The results are expected to make a big mark in medical, nutritional and environmental testing.

The complexity of human urine took even scientist by surprize.

“Urine is an incredibly complex biofluid. We had no idea there could be so many different compounds going into our toilets,” noted David Wishart, the senior scientist on the project.

The techniques used in the study included nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, gas chromatography, mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography, with the purpose being not only the identification (the ‘what’) of substances in urine, but also the quantification (the ‘how much’). They also used computer-based data mining techniques to scour more than 100 years of published scientific literature about human urine, and if you’re passionate about this subject or it has scientific interest to you, you can check their collected data base for free, online, at the Urine Metabolome Database, or UMDB. The Urine Metabolome database is a freely available electronic database containing detailed information about ~3100 small molecule metabolites found in human urine along with ~3900 concentration values. Each metabolite entry contains more than 110 data fields and many of them are hyperlinked to other databases; basically, it’s like IMDB for urine.

As one can easily guess, the chemical composition of urine is of huge interest to doctors, nutritionists, and even environmental scientists, because it offers valuable information not only about someone’s health, but also about what they’ve been eating, drinking, smoking, etc. As a matter of fact, up until the 1800s, urine’s taste and smell were the primary method for physicians to diagnose disease.

“While the human genome project certainly continues to capture most of the world’s attention, I believe that these studies on the human metabolome are already having a far more significant and immediate impact on human health.”, he added.

Now, with this complete list, we can probably expect numerous advancements and related studies in the field – especially as they have taken the correct and laudable path of sharing their results for free.

“Most medical textbooks only list 50 to 100 chemicals in urine, and most common clinical urine tests only measure six to seven compounds,” said Wishart. “Expanding the list of known chemicals in urine by a factor of 30 and improving the technology so that we can detect hundreds of urine chemicals at a time could be a real game-changer for medical testing.”

Still, it’s quite possible that even this (though extremely thorough and useful) database is not exhaustive.

“This is certainly not the final word on the chemical composition of urine,” Wishart said. “As new techniques are developed and as more sensitive instruments are produced, I am sure that hundreds more urinary compounds will be identified. In fact, new compounds are being added to the UMDB almost every day.

Journal Reference: Souhaila Bouatra, Farid Aziat, Rupasri Mandal, An Chi Guo, Michael R. Wilson, Craig Knox, Trent C. Bjorndahl, Ramanarayan Krishnamurthy, Fozia Saleem, Philip Liu, Zerihun T. Dame, Jenna Poelzer, Jessica Huynh, Faizath S. Yallou, Nick Psychogios, Edison Dong, Ralf Bogumil, Cornelia Roehring, David S. Wishart. The Human Urine Metabolome. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e73076 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0073076