Drinking cocoa may boost brain power, study suggests

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  • Cocoa and many other plant-based foods contain flavanols
  • According to previous research, flavanols are beneficial for vascular health
  • A recent study revealed how the consumption of flavanols also helps cognitive function

Researchers of the University of Birmingham recently revealed that consuming high levels of flavanols could be highly beneficial for cognitive function. 

What are flavanols?

Flavanols are a group of compounds found in a range of plant-based foods and drinks, such as cocoa, tea, berries and apples. Poor nutrition and being unfit wear out the vascular system, and as a result, speed up cognitive ageing, which may lead to dementia. 

Existing evidence shows that cocoa flavanols protect against vascular disease and death related to heart disease. All the effects of flavanols on the brain are, however, not yet fully understood. 

This study, published in Scientific Reports, is one of the first of its kind, testing the effects that the consumption of flavanols have on the brain.

Drinking cocoa for brain power 

The study included 18 healthy male participants who were subjected to a procedure that challenged blood circulation in the brain, leading to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the blood (known as hypercapnia).

The levels of blood oxygenation of the participants were tracked during the procedure to see the brain’s response to the increase in carbon dioxide. The participants then completed a range of cognitive tests that became increasingly difficult.

On two occasions, participants completed a cognitive test before and after consuming a cocoa drink, of which only one contained flavanols.  

Lead author, Dr Catarina Rendeiro, added, “We used cocoa in our experiment, but flavanols are extremely common in a wide range of fruits and vegetables.”

Better brain power with flavanols

Researchers found that when the participants drank the drink containing flavonoids, they responded better to hypercapnia because the oxygen levels in their blood were higher. The results of the cognitive tests completed by the participants show that when they drank the flavanol-enriched drink, they performed the more difficult tasks 11% faster and more accurately. 

“Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink – but only when the task became sufficiently complicated,” Dr Rendeiro stated.

The researchers also said that the outcomes of this study are helping them to guide people about the dietary benefits of certain foods.   

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