Cocoa, especially if it is minimally processed, contains high levels of health enhancing antioxidant flavnols – a distinct group of naturally occurring compounds that can be found in a variety of foods such as tea and red wine.

Now a recent study has shown how this protection can extend to the brain.

It is normal for cognitive function to slightly deteriorate with age. Memory capacity begins to worsen, along with processing speed and the ability to form long-term memories. This decline is different from the cognitive decline that signals possible dementia. Finding a way to slow it down is becoming increasingly important as our population ages.

While previous studies have demonstrated the benefits of cocoa flavanols for people suffering from mild cognitive impairment, the current study focused on healthy people experiencing the usual mental wear and tear that comes with older age.

The researchers, from Italy’s University of L’Aquila and chocolate company Mars enrolled men and women aged 61-85 years with no evidence of cognitive dysfunction, the participants in this controlled, randomized, double-blind study were assigned to one of three groups and given a cocoa drink to consume for  daily for 8 weeks.

The drinks were nutritionally matched except for their flavanol content which was either high (993 mg), intermediate (520 mg) or low (48 mg).

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