The claim: Consuming flavanol-rich cocoa may enhance brain function.
Each year, more than six percent of people aged 70 years or older develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition involving memory loss that can progress to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. But according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, a recent controlled study shows that eating cocoa flavanols daily may improve mild cognitive impairment
In this study, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment were randomized to drink daily 990 milligrams (high), 520 (intermediate), or 45 mg (low) of a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink for eight weeks. The diet was restricted to eliminate other sources of flavanols from foods and beverages other than the dairy-based cocoa drink.
Cognitive function was examined by neuro-psychological tests of executive function, working memory, short-term memory, long-term episodic memory, processing speed and global cognition.
• Scores significantly improved in the ability to relate visual stimuli to motor responses, working memory, task-switching and verbal memory for those participants drinking the high and intermediate flavanol drinks.
• Participants drinking daily higher levels of flavanol drinks had significantly higher overall cognitive scores than those participants drinking lower-levels.
• Insulin resistance, blood pressure and oxidative stress also decreased in those drinking high and intermediate levels of flavanols daily. Changes in insulin resistance explained about 40 percent of the composite scores for improvements in cognitive functioning.
• Consuming cocoa flavanols as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet could improve brain function.
• Insulin resistance and blood sugar levels also significantly improved in study participants who drank mid- to high levels of cocoa flavanols, but not in those drinking low levels.
“This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function” said study researcher, Giovambattista Desideri, M.D.
Flavanols can be found in Tea, grapes, red wine, apples and cocoa products and have been associated with a decreased risk of dementia. They may act on the brain structure and function directly by protecting neurons from injury, improving metabolism and their interaction with the molecular structure responsible for memory researchers said. Indirectly, flavanols may help by improving brain blood flow.
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