Consuming cocoa flavanols – antioxidants found in cocoa beans – not only boosts memory and cognitive function in the short-term, but regular consumption could help protect against cognitive decline as we age, a new study has found.
That chocolate may be good for us is not a new idea, there have been many previous studies looking into this. However, a team of Italian researchers conducted a meta-analysis of the available studies, looking specifically at what happens to your brain both immediately after cocoa flavanol consumption and over a prolonged period of time.
Their study, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, found that eating cocoa flavanols boosts blood flow to key parts of the brain, improving working memory, attention span, and even speed of processing visual imagery. The strength of these effects for young and healthy adults, however, were subtle, with demanding cognitive tests needed to uncover them.
Not only that, but surprisingly they also discovered that eating the treat regularly over a long period of time affected the part of the brain linked with age-related cognition, significantly improving the performance of older adults already experiencing mild cognitive decline, and potentially protecting against it.
"This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance," said authors Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara, from the University of L'Aquila, in a statement. "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," they explained. "This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans."
Oh yeah, and if that wasn’t reason enough to go straight to your nearest shop and buy the biggest bar you can find, they also found that, especially among women, eating cocoa after a night of sleep deprivation actually counterbalanced the negative effects and improved cognitive function (oh, hey new moms).
The authors suggest in their paper that the administration of cocoa flavanols could be used as “a new interesting nutraceutical tool to protect human cognition and counteract different types of cognitive decline”, whether that’s sleep deprivation or a natural decline in cognition in old age.
Of course, they do point out that even though "regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time,” the obvious downside of consuming lots of chocolate is the added sugar and milk.
So, perhaps do as they do.
"Dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanols. So we always eat some dark chocolate. Every day."