Cocoa could improve memory functions in the elderly, study suggests

Cocoa contains high levels of flavonols which are also found in tea, grapes, red wine and apples, which are thought to protect brain cells from damage.

A new study by the Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Neurology, has once again suggested that chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills in the elderly.

This is not the first time cocoa has been linked with health benefits, including keeping the brain healthy, improve memory and learning, and improve blood flow or circulation, that could potentially protect against cognitive decline and dementia.

The Harvard Medical School studied 60 elderly people - with an average age of 73 - who did not have dementia- and found that those who initially performed poorly on memory and reasoning tests and had impaired blood flow to the brain, showed improvement after drinking two cups of cocoa, every day for 30 days.

One group was given high-flavanol cocoa and another a low-flavanol cocoa - and did not consume other chocolate.

Eighteen people in the group had impaired blood flow in the brain when the study began. Almost all of the 60 participants had high blood pressure and half had a form of diabetes.

Brain blood flow improved by an average of 8 percent by the end of the study in those participants whose levels were low at the beginning, but there was little improvement in those who had started out withnormal blood flow and cognitive skills.

Experts said more research was needed before conclusions could be drawn.

"We're learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills," said study author Dr Farzaneh Sorond, an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

"As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer's."

However before going out on a chocolate binge, Sorond said, “Before we recommend cocoa, it's important to go back and figure out what's in it that's doing this and make sure it's sustainable. I'd prefer people wait until we figure out how to get the benefit without the calories, sugar and fat that comes in cocoa."

Since there weren’t significant differences between the high-flavanol and low flavanol groups, researchers believed that something else in the chocolate, like caffeine may have caused the improvements.

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