Cocoa flavanols improving mild cognitive impairment

Cocoa flavanols can improve mild cognitive impairment.

According to new research, drinking a high flavanol cocoa drink daily improves cognitive functioning such as memory, processing speed in elderly study participants with mild cognitive impairment.

The American Heart Association said that over 6% of people aged 70 and over develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition involving memory loss that can progress to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Giovambattista Desideri, the lead author, said: “This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function”.

The research team said that flavanols in cocoa products could reduce the risk of dementia.

They advised that flavanols may alter the brain structure and function by protecting neurons responsible for memory from injury.

Desideri and his team added that flavanols also help improve the blood flow.

He added: “The positive effect on cognitive function may be mainly mediated by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function”.

The authors’ conclusions followed the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) opinions on health claims from chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut linking cocoa to improved blood flow.

Ninety elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment consumed one of three dairy-based cocoa flavanol drinks for eight weeks: 990 milligrams (high), 520mg (intermediate) or 45mg (low).

They were told not to consume any other sources of flavanols from food and drink during the trial period.

The research team measured changes in cognitive function through neuro-psychological tests of executive function, working memory, short-term memory, long-term episodic memory, processing speed and global cognition.

They discovered that scores for motor responses, task-switching and verbal and working memory improved significantly for those consuming high and intermediate flavanol drinks.

The participants, who drank high flavanols dose drink, had much higher overall cognitive functioning than those drinking low levels.

Insulin resistance accounted for over a third of improved scores as blood pressure an oxidative stress was also seen to decrease in those drinking high and immediate flavanols drinks.

The researchers urged larger scale studies to validate their findings and noted that their sample size was not completely representative of all mild cognitive impairment patients as all participants in their study were in good health and without cardiovascular disease.

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