Cocoa flavanols have shown some benefits for the heart, but they may also be good for cognitive function in older people, researchers found.
In a double-blind study, elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment who consumed high or moderate levels of cocoa flavanols for 2 months had significant improvements on certain cognitive assessment tests compared with those who took in only small amounts, Giovambattista Desideri, PhD, of the University of L’Aquila in Italy, and colleagues reported online in Hypertension.
“Although additional confirmatory studies are warranted, the findings…suggest that the regular dietary inclusion of flavanols could be one element of a dietary approach to the maintaining and improving not only cardiovascular health but also specifically brain health,” they wrote.
Evidence suggests eating flavonoids, polyphenic compounds from plant-based foods, may confer cardiovascular benefits. Flavonols are a subclass of these compounds that are abundant in tea, grapes, red wine, apples, and cocoa products including chocolate.
Desideri and colleagues also observed improvements in several metabolic parameters, including blood pressure and insulin resistance, for those on high and intermediate doses of cocoa flavanols.
They noted that there were no changes in cholesterol or triglycerides in any of the groups.
The study was limited because its short time-frame didn’t allow for conclusions about the extent of cognitive benefits and their duration. Nor can it establish whether the observed benefits are a consequence of the cocoa itself or a secondary effect related to general improvements in cardiovascular function or health. Also, participants were in good health overall and without known cardiovascular disease, so the population may be representative of all subjects with MCI.
Still, the researchers concluded that the data “are suggestive of a possible clinical benefit derived from the regular dietary inclusion of cocoa flavanol-containing foods in subjects with MCI.”