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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Compounds Found in Chocolate May Help Cognitive Function

By Rachel Murphy

Could the chocolate in your advent calendar have health benefits including improving cognition and metabolic measures?  Flavanols which are found in green tea, red wine, cocoa, and yes, chocolate have previously been reported to be associated with cardiovascular and metabolic health.  The results of study published this week, suggest beneficial effects of flavanol consumption from cocoa in older adults. 

A team of researchers led by Daniela Mastroiacovo conducted a double-blind, controlled, parallel-arm study in 90 healthy older adults with normal cognitive function.  Thirty individuals consumed a drink with low flavanols (48 mg), 30 consumed a drink enriched with 520 mg of flavanols and the remaining 30 consumed a drink enriched with 993 mg of flavanols.   

All individuals were evaluated with a cognitive test at the start of the study and after 8 weeks of daily drink consumption.  At the end of the study, the high flavanol drink had significant improvements in two measures of cognitive function, as well as improvements in insulin resistance, blood pressure and lipid peroxidation.  Although the authors concede that further studies are needed, the results are promising. 

Thus, it seems that flavanols are one of a growing list of food components including docosahexaenoic acid, and B vitamins that may be important for supporting brain health in older adults.  It may not be time to reach for chocolate just yet-the drinks in the Mastroiacovo study were enriched with cocoa flavanols but for some holiday fun you can read about the chocolate habits of Nobel prizewinners

Main Citation

Mastroiacovo D, et al. Cocoa flavanol consumption improves cognitive function, blood pressure control, and metabolic profile in elderly subjects: the Cocoa, Cognition, and Aging (CoCoA) Study-a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr 2014; doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.092189

Other Citations

De Pascual-Teresa S, et al. Flavanols and anthocyanins in cardiovascular health: a review of current evidence. Int J Mol Sci 2010;11(4):1679-703

Yurko-Mauro K, et al. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement 2010;6(6):456-64

Smith AD, et al. Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. PLoS One 2010;5(9):e12244