After 30 days, participants were tested for memory and thinking skills using ultrasounds to measure their blood flow to the brain.
The findings? 18 percent of the group were found to have impaired blood flow, but showed an average of 8.3 percent improvement from their test at the beginning of the month. Memory test scores improved as well, as average recall times fell from 167 seconds to 116 seconds.
Twenty-four of the participants also underwent MRI scans that scanned for tiny areas of white matter on the brain, which can occur when the blood flow is restricted. The scans showed that the participants with impaired neurovascular coupling were the ones most likely to have these tiny areas of brain damage.
The conclusion: Drinking hot chocolate regularly could help older people keep their brains healthy.
Half the participants drank hot chocolate rich in antioxidants known as flavanols, while the other half received low-flavanol cocoa. The flavanol content made no difference to the results, it was found.
The study was led by Dr. Farzaneh Sorond of Harvard Medical School in Boston. “We’re learning more about blood flow in the brain and its effect on thinking skills” she said. “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.”
In the study, Sorond and her colleagues conclude:
“There is a strong correlation between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function, and both can be improved by regular cocoa consumption in individuals with baseline impairments. Better neurovascular coupling is also associated with greater white matter structural integrity.”
Express reported that Dr. Doug Brown, for the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know that poor blood flow can affect people’s brain power because they don’t have enough fuel in their brain cells to complete tasks efficiently.
“From this small but interesting study, it seems that cocoa helps improve blood supply to the brain, therefore having a knock-on effect of improving people’s cognition. This could be good news for those who enjoy a relaxing hot chocolate before bed, but we do need further research to better our understanding of the link between cocoa and cognition, and also whether it has any impact on dementia.”
Dr Paul Rosenberg, from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, added an editorial accompanying the team’s report. Rosenberg say that the study is an important first step, but adds: “More work is needed to prove a link between cocoa, blood flow problems and cognitive decline. But this is an important first step that could guide future studies.”
Sorond told AARP: “I would be uncomfortable in recommending chocolate for brain health,” she said, to my great disappointment, adding that the extra calories and sugar might not be beneficial to an already “at-risk” population. Darn it”