Cocoa: Enriching Lives

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Who knew that the sweet ingredient we find in chocolate is the same element that may also be good for cognitive function in the aging adult. Cocoa, that sweet, delicious piece that completes chocolate recipes, is currently being recognized as a source that could improve cognitive function for individuals with early memory decline.
According to a study conducted by Giovambattista Desideri of the University of L’Aquila in Italy and colleagues, and funded by Mars, Incorporated, researchers reported that elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who consumed high or moderate levels of dietary cocoa flavanols for two months had significant improvements on certain cognitive assessment tests, reports medpage Today.
Flavanolsare a group of natural compounds that are found abundant in cocoa. Previous studies have suggested that eating flavanols presents cardiovascular benefits. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, a study author and R&D Director at Mars Botanical, said, “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.”
It’s been estimated that up to 20 per cent of adults aged 65 or older have a form of mild cognitive impairment, and recent evidence indicates that more than six per cent of adults aged 70-89 develop the condition each year, reports Mars, Inc.
Desideri and colleagues assessed 90 older adults with MCI who were randomized to drink varying levels – high, intermediate and low – of a dairy-based cocoa per day for 8 weeks. The research team assessed the varying levels of cognitive function using standard tests that examined various aspects of memory, cognitive processing speed, executive function, as well as global cognition.
As a result, they found that tests that examined the processing speed, working memory and executive function were significantly improved after two months of regular consumption. Test times completed by the participants after the eight-week study were reduced up to 30 per cent. In addition, scores on the Verbal Fluency Test (VFT), which is commonly used as a measure of executive function and language, were also significantly better.
These findings, recently published in the online journal Hypertension, have stressed that due to the short-term duration of these studies, this has not yet been proven to be a consistent cognitive benefit, but shows (positive) signs as to the effects dietary cocoa flavanols can have with daily intake.
While researchers continue their studies on cocoa, it can’t hurt to get a jump on your flavanol intake. We aren’t suggesting you run around going on a chocolate binge, because that isn’t healthy. But flavanols can also be found in tea, apples and grapes, and indulging in any of these three products once a day can’t hurt. At least now I’m not feeling so bad about that brownie I ate at lunch…
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