Does anyone mind having yet another reason to indulge in dark chocolate…? Yeah, we didn’t think so.
Now, it appears that dark chocolate also benefits the brain. According to a study recently published in Hypertension (a journal of the American Heart Association), eating cocoa flavanols daily could improve mild cognitive impairment in older adults.
For the study, 90 elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment were given a dairy-based cocoa flavanol mixture containing either a high, intermediate, or low concentration of flavanols, for eight weeks. The researchers then conducted a series of tests to assess cognitive function.
(It’s interesting that the study used a dairy-based cocoa flavanol mixture, despite previous research suggesting that milk may inhibit absorption of flavanols and other beneficial compounds found in chocolate).
Compared to the lowest intake group, the high cocoa flavanol group had significantly improved cognitive scores and working memory, and were better able to relate visual stimuli to motor responses.
Perhaps most importantly, high and intermediate flavanol intake group members also showed improved markers for insulin resistance, oxidative stress, and blood pressure, compared to members of the low intake group.
Lead researcher Giovambattista Desideri, M.D., summarized: “This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function.” Perhaps most encouraging is the fact that these positive changes were seen over such a short period of time – just 8 weeks.
Desideri also noted: “The findings provide promising indications that the development of novel dietary approaches for improving health as we age – especially cognitive health – is a real possibility.”
It is not yet clear whether the cognitive benefits seen in the study are directly related to flavanol consumption or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function. But both are certainly positive outcomes!
Larger studies are needed to validate the findings of this research, determine ideal intake levels of cocoa flavanols, and discern how long the positive effects of the flavanols will last. But you don’t have to wait for additional studies to start reaping the benefits of those heart- and mind-healthy flavanols!
Check out this roundup of The 10 Best Vegan Dark Chocolate Bars for a few of our favorite picks. And for some great information about the human and environmental impacts of chocolate production, read How Ethical is Your Chocolate?
Image Credit: 3liz4/Flickr