In case you needed another reason to eat more chocolate, here’s one: Chocolate may be good for your brain.
Studies have outlined the effect flavanols, compounds occurring naturally in cocoa, have on the cardiovascular system, but researchers are also looking at their impact on the brain.
In “Enhancing Human Cognition with Cocoa Flavonoids,” an article recently published in Frontiers in Nutrition, five Italian researchers summarize studies that illustrate the role cocoa flavanols play in brain health — a growing concern, the researchers note.
“Enhancing cognitive abilities has become a fascinating scientific challenge, recently driven by the interest in preventing age-related cognitive decline and sustaining normal cognitive performance in response to cognitively demanding environments,” the article reads.
While research is still in early stages, preliminary investigations show dose-dependent improvements in general cognition, attention, processing speed and working memory. Moreover, cocoa flavanols can also enhance normal cognitive function and help rebuild cognitive performance and cardiovascular function specifically impaired by sleep loss.
Cocoa flavanols have been praised for their antioxidant properties, but the researchers say there is a low concentration of flavanoids in the brain, meaning it’s unlikely that “direct antioxidant action” can entirely account for cognitive effects. Instead, flavanoids can help protect from and counteract neuron-based damage resulting from degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
“These structures are particularly vulnerable to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration, suggesting that flavonoids could exert direct neuroprotective effects,” the article reads.
Apart from neuron structure, research has indicated that flavanoid consumption can help with memory. In a 2010 double-blind crossover study, 30 healthy adults were administered chocolate drinks containing 520 and 994 mg flavanols and 46 mg matched control, with a 3-day washout between sessions. They were then asked to complete a 10-minute task battery designed to be “cognitively fatiguing.”
Results showed that, compared to control, both 520 and 994 mg cocoa flavanols doses significantly improved working memory performance on serial subtractions.
While promising, researchers recommended continued study on flavanols and the brain.
“Together, these findings converge at pointing to cocoa as a new interesting nutraceutical tool to protect human cognition and counteract different types of cognitive decline, thus encouraging further investigations,” the article reads.