Eating chocolates regularly can help boost cognitive abilities and mental health, as well as reduce memory decline in older adults, a study has found. Researchers from University of L’Aquila in Italy found that the cocoa bean is a rich source of flavanols – a class of natural compounds that have neuroprotective effects. They examined existing studies on the effects of acute and chronic administration of cocoa flavanols on different cognitive domains. Although randomized controlled trials investigating the acute effect of cocoa flavanols are sparse, most of them point towards a beneficial effect on cognitive performance.
Participants showed, among others, enhancements in working memory performance and improved visual information processing after having had cocoa flavanols. For women, eating cocoa after a night of total sleep deprivation counteracted the cognitive impairment that such a night brings about, researchers said. Promising results for people that suffer from chronic sleep deprivation or work shifts. It has to be noted though, that the effects depended on the length and mental load of the used cognitive tests to measure the effect of acute cocoa consumption.
In young and healthy adults, for example, a high demanding cognitive test was required to uncover the subtle immediate behavioural effects that cocoa flavanols have on this group. The effects of relatively long-term ingestion of cocoa flavanols (ranging from five days up to three months) have generally been investigated in elderly individuals. It turns out that for them cognitive performance was improved by a daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Factors such as attention, processing speed, working memory, and verbal fluency were greatly affected. These effects were, however, most pronounced in older adults with a starting memory decline or other mild cognitive impairments.
This was exactly the most unexpected and promising result according to authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara from the. “This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance,” said Valentina Socci, from the University of L’Aquila. “If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus,” said Socci. “This structure is particularly affected by ageing and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans,” she said.
“Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time,” researchers said. However, they also warn of potential side effects of eating cocoa and chocolate. Those are generally linked to the caloric value of chocolate, some inherent chemical compounds of the cocoa plant such as caffeine and theobromine, and a variety of additives added to chocolate such as sugar or milk.