Just published online in the journal Hypertension, this current study significantly advances understanding of the benefits of flavanols by specifically exploring the impact of regular cocoa flavanol consumption on cognitive function in a population with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is a condition in which an individual experiences memory loss to a greater extent than one would expect for his or her age, but this is not so severe that it interferes with everyday activities. It is estimated that up to 20% of adults aged 65 or older have MCI, and recent evidence indicates that more than 6% of adults aged 70–89 develop the condition each year.
Previous research has suggested that the benefits of cocoa flavanols could extend to the brain. However, these studies were either only short-term or did not demonstrate a consistent cognitive benefit. This unique study addresses this gap and provides important insights into the possibility of slowing or even reversing cognitive declines associated with aging through consumption of these natural compounds.
Flavanols are a group of natural compounds that are particularly abundant in cocoa. A significant body of published research has shown that consumption of cocoa flavanols helps support healthy circulation and cardiovascular health.
“For the first time, regular cocoa flavanol consumption has been shown to positively affect cognitive function in older adults with early memory decline,” commented study author Dr. Giovambattista Desideri, Director of the Geriatric Division of the University of L’Aquila. “Importantly, the improvements in cognitive function were seen over a relatively short period of time; and, while further research is required to confirm and expand on these findings, this provides encouraging evidence that regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with Mild Cognitive Impairment. The findings provide promising indications that the development of novel dietary approaches for improving health as we age – especially cognitive health – is a real possibility.”
The study also demonstrated significant reductions in blood pressure, findings that are consistent with several previously published studies. A reduction in insulin resistance was also evident, an effect that was strongly linked with the improvements in cognitive function, suggesting an influential role of glucose metabolism.
“We already understand how important diet is to health, and previous research has provided consistent evidence of the benefits of cocoa flavanol consumption for cardiovascular health,” said Catherine Kwik-Uribe, a study author and R&D Director at Mars Botanical. “The results of this latest research build on these earlier findings and provide promising indication that diets that contain cocoa flavanols may offer significant benefits as we age. This is of great interest given the aging populations in much of the developed world.”