Enjoying a cup of warm cocoa every day may be a guilty pleasure for some, but new research has shown it could also be keeping brains healthy.
The study, which surveyed 60 people with no signs of dementia, found two cups of the delicious winter beverage improved blood flow to the brain for those who already had some impairment.
Published in the journal Neurology, the participants also performed better on memory tests toward the end of the study. While more research is needed before a direct correlation can be made, the study gives weight to the long-held belief that cocoa has exceptional health benefits.
Rich in flavanols, cocoa has been linked in previous studies with exceptional vascular health. Poor vascular health is a known risk factor for dementia. Understanding more about the link between vascular health and the brain could help in the development of new treatments and prevention of degenerative brain diseases and conditions.
“We’re learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills,” said Dr Farzaneh Sorond, the study’s author and a neurologist at Harvard Medical School.
“As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s,” Dr Sorond added.
Participants of the study, with an average age of 73, were asked to consume two cups of cocoa a day. They were divided into two groups; one consumed a high-flavanol cocoa and the other a low-flavanol cocoa. They were also told to consume no other chocolate.
Ultrasounds results before the study showed that 17 of the group already had impaired blood flow to the brain. Of these 17, 88 per cent saw improvement in blood flow and memory function compared with 37 per cent of participants whose blood flow was normal at the beginning of the study.
While researchers acknowledged that: “a cocoa-based treatment would likely be very popular,” they also cautioned that, “it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about its effects.”
Either way it seems, the study gives some weight to the idea that we should indulge in a cup or two of cocoa every now and again.