- Research suggests that a cocoa-based drink enriched with flavanols, a type of antioxidant, could improve brain function and memory in individuals experiencing mild memory issues.
- Flavanols are found in various foods including tea, grapes, and apples, but are particularly abundant in cocoa. These antioxidants are associated with reducing the risk of dementia and enhancing blood flow and metabolism in the brain.
- The study involved 90 elderly participants with mild memory problems, who consumed a drink with varying amounts of flavanols. Those consuming higher quantities displayed significant improvement in tests for hand-eye coordination, memory, and verbal articulation.
- Despite the promising results, experts urge caution and emphasize the need for replication of the study. They also highlight physical exercise as the lifestyle choice with the most scientific support for boosting cognitive health.
- The study underscores the potential benefits of cocoa flavanols for brain health, but does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. It also notes that the study used flavanol-rich drinks, not regular chocolate.
Findings from Italian researchers suggest that a cocoa-based drink enriched with flavanols – renowned antioxidants also found in chocolate – could aid in improving brain function for those encountering mild memory issues.
Rich Sources of Flavanols
Flavanols are discovered in a variety of food items such as tea, grapes, red wine, and apples, but they are particularly abundant in the cocoa plant. Research links flavanol consumption to a reduced risk of dementia.
The lead researcher, Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, who also happens to be the director of the geriatric division in the department of life, health, and environmental sciences at the University of L’Aquila, emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle for preventing dementia. As per him, this lifestyle includes proper control over cardiovascular risk-factor, regular physical exercise, weight control, and a nutritionally balanced, calorie-controlled diet. He stated, “In this spectrum, frequent intake of cocoa flavanol seems to be an effective path towards preserving brain and cardiovascular health and functionality.”
The Beneficial Effects of Flavanols
The potential of flavanols to help sustain brain function possibly stems from their ability to shield brain cells, enhance brain metabolism and blood flow, ultimately aiding in the preservation of memory, as per the researchers.
The study, supported by Mars Inc., involved the recruitment of 90 elderly people with mild memory issues. The participants were directed to consume a drink containing 990 mg, 520 mg, or 45 mg of cocoa flavanols daily for a span of eight weeks.
The research team utilized a range of tests to determine the participants’ brain functionality. Results showed that those consuming high and intermediate amounts of flavanol displayed significant improvement in several of the tests.
Notably, the group consuming high volumes of flavanols displayed better results in hand-eye coordination, memory – both working and verbal – and verbal articulation compared to the participants in the low-flavanol group. Approximately 40% of these improved cognitive scores resulted from reduced insulin resistance, as observed in the higher flavanol groups. Beneficial side effects included lower blood sugar and blood pressure, coupled with reduced levels of cell oxidative damage markers. Essentially, cocoa flavanols help to enhance control over blood sugar levels.
With the rapid increase in cognitive disorders worldwide and the simultaneous aging of populations in Western countries, these findings propose that the consumption of cocoa flavanols may potentially be a useful strategy to protect mental health. However, it’s crucial to highlight that this study did not involve regular chocolate but instead utilized lower-calorie, nutritionally balanced drinks enriched with cocoa flavanols.
Dr. Sam Gandy, who serves as the associate director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, stated that while the study sparks interest, it needs to be replicated before any concrete conclusions can be drawn. “Physical exercise is the lifestyle choice with the most scientific backing. Before endorsing chocolate consumption, I would recommend physical exercise,” he stated. Though the study denotes a link between cocoa flavanols and cognitive scores, a direct cause-and-effect relationship is yet to be established.