Older chocoholics may have a new excuse to indulge their cravings: The dark stuff not only soothes the soul, but might also sharpen the mind.
In a study published Wednesday in the journal Neurology, researchers reported that chocolate may help improve brain health and thinking skills in the elderly. The Boston-based team found that older people who initially performed poorly on a memory and reasoning test and also had reduced blood flow to their brains showed improvement after drinking two cups of cocoa every day for a month.
The researchers had set out to test whether chocolate could increase blood flow to the brain during problem solving, boosting performance, after finding in earlier studies that consuming chocolate high in the antioxidant flavanol was associated with better brain and blood vessel functioning. They recruited 60 elderly subjects for the new study. Since they suspected that flavanol would improve the subjects’ thinking skills and blood flow, they randomly assigned subjects to drink either flavanol-rich or flavanol-poor hot chocolate.
The participants drank two cups of hot chocolate every day for 30 days. Before and after the study period, they completed a memory and reasoning test, which assessed their ability to recognize patterns in a series of letters on a computer screen. Additionally, the researchers used ultrasound to indirectly measure the blood flow to subjects’ brains, as well as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, to examine subjects’ white matter — the nerve fibers that connect different parts of the brain.
People who performed poorly on the initial cognitive test — about a third of the participants — also had reduced blood flow to their brains and widespread white matter damage. Those who scored high on the test had signficantly better blood flow and more intact white matter, indicating that blood flow, cognitive functioning and brain structure were linked.
At the end of the 30 days, the team found that drinking hot chocolate benefited only the subjects who had poor cognitive and neurovascular function to begin with. After the hot cocoa regimen, those individuals showed an 8% improvement in blood flow and a roughly 1 minute faster reaction time on the cognitive task. There was barely any improvement among those who had started out with normal blood flow and cognitive skills.
Via Edible News