Dark chocolate helps protect against cognitive decline
06/15/2021 / By Brocky Wilson / Comments
Dark chocolate helps protect against cognitive decline

More than just a sweet treat, chocolate is an amazing superfood that’s packed with brain-healthy nutrients. This delectable food is made by drying and fermenting the beans of the cacao tree, which are then processed into cocoa powder, cocoa butter and chocolate.

Cocoa beans are chock-full of natural compounds called flavonols. Cocoa flavonols act as antioxidants in your body and are extremely beneficial to your brain. According to an Italian study, the flavonols in chocolate can enhance cognition and protect against cognitive decline.

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Nutrients in chocolate improve brain health

Researchers from the University of Rome and the University of L’Aquila in Italy reviewed past studies that examined the effects of cocoa flavonols on different cognitive domains, including attention and memory.

Many of the studies showed that consuming cocoa flavonols enhanced working memory and improved people’s ability to process visual information. Eating cocoa after a sleepless night also helped protect against the cognitive impairment caused by sleep deprivation.

Meanwhile, consuming cocoa flavonols every day for three months enhanced the cognitive performance of elderly participants. In particular, it improved their focus, working memory, processing speed and verbal fluency. These improvements were most pronounced in older adults whose memories were starting to decline or who had other mild cognitive impairments.

This finding suggests that the flavanols in cocoa could protect against cognitive decline in vulnerable populations, study co-authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara said.

The pair attributed this neuroprotective effect to the flavonols’ ability to boost cardiovascular health and increase blood flow to the hippocampus, a region of the brain that shrinks with age and is linked to age-related cognitive decline. Since blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to cells, improved blood flow to your hippocampus helps keep your brain cells healthy and functioning optimally.

So do these findings mean you could eat chocolate every day? According to Socci and Ferrara, regularly eating cocoa and chocolate could indeed benefit cognitive function over time. But the pair noted that chocolate is high in calories and contains other compounds that could cause unwanted side effects. For instance, chocolate contains caffeine, which promotes wakefulness. As such, you should exercise moderation when eating chocolate.

In addition, you should choose dark chocolate over other varieties. “Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols. So we always eat some dark chocolate. Every day,” Socci and Ferrara said.

More studies link dark chocolate to better brainpower

A 2020 study also found that the flavonols in chocolate can improve mental performance. American and British researchers arrived at this finding after giving 18 healthy adults either a cup of cocoa drink that was high in flavonols or a placebo cocoa drink without flavonols.

Those who received the flavonol-rich drink performed significantly better on a battery of cognitive tests than those who drank the placebo. In particular, they completed the tests 11 percent faster on average than the latter.

The researchers also exposed the participants to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide during the tests to measure blood flow in their brain after drinking either one of the cocoa drinks. They found that those who drank the flavonol-rich cocoa had higher oxygen levels in their brains than those who consumed the placebo.

“Our results showed a clear benefit for the participants taking the flavanol-enriched drink – but only when the task became sufficiently complicated,” said study co-author Catarina Rendeiro, a nutrition lecturer at the University of Birmingham. “We can link this with our results on improved blood oxygenation. If you’re being challenged more, your brain needs improved blood oxygen levels to manage that challenge.”

A 2013 review also suggested that cocoa flavonols may lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. French researchers explained that the flavonols in cocoa powder stimulate the activity of certain enzymes in the lining of your brain. These enzymes cause the blood vessels in your brain to relax, improving blood flow.

Past studies on the link between dementia risk and the intake of flavonoids, such as cocoa flavonols, also showed that the higher your flavonoid intake, the lower your risk of dementia.

Dark chocolate is more than just a mouthwatering sweet treat. This potent superfood is also packed with brain-healthy nutrients that can help improve your memory and ward off Alzheimer’s. Eat this superfood in moderation to enjoy its remarkable health benefits.

Sources:

ScienceDaily.com

News.Yahoo.com

BPSPubs.OnlineLibrary.Wiley.com

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