A recent study suggests that consuming cocoa flavanols as part of a regulated diet could improve cognitive function. This study, conducted by researchers at the University of L’Aquila in L’Aquila, Italy, was published on August 14 in Hypertension.

Flavanols are a class of flavonoids (plant secondary metabolites with medicinal properties) that are abundant in teas, berries, apples, grapes, red wine, and chocolate. Flavanols can work as an antioxidant. This study involved 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. The 90 patients were each randomized to consume a dairy-based cocoa flavanol drink of different amounts (990 milligrams, 520 milligrams, or 45 milligrams) for eight weeks. Their diet was cut off of other sources of flavanols. After eight weeks, they participated in neuropsychological tests, and results showed that those in the groups who drank higher levels of cocoa performed significantly higher in the tests than those who drank lower levels of cocoa. Those given the drinks with higher flavanol content also had decreased insulin resistance, blood pressure, and oxidative stress. The decreased insulin resistances levels contributed to 40 percent of the higher results in the cognitive tests.

However, the researchers acknowledge that this was just a small preliminary study that requires larger long-term studies before the results can be confirmed. They still need to determine the amount of cocoa flavanols needed to obtain the benefits and how long these benefits will last. While flavanols has the potential to help improve cognitive function as part of a healthy diet, it is discouraged that people should consume chocolate everyday because of this study.

Sources: http://www.healthcare-today.co.uk/news/cocoa-could-keep-dementia-at-bay/22509/

               http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/news_article.php?newsID=1295

Keywords: cocoa; flavanols; mild cognitive impairment (MCI); research

Wendy Liu

August 14, 2012