Cocoa Could Boost Brains of Older Adults With Poor Diets

Cocoa Could Boost Brains of Older Adults With Poor Diets

As we get older, we have to work harder to protect our brain and cognitive function. Some of us play the crossword or learn new skills, but new research is beginning to show that our diet might also play an important role.

Several studies have pointed towards cocoa extract as having a potential protective effect on cognition in older adults. However, the results of these trials have so far been inconclusive. Now, researchers from Mass General Brigham have investigated these effects further in a large-scale, placebo-controlled clinical trial and identified one group who may be particularly suited to cocoa supplementation.

“Cocoa extract is rich in biologically active compounds, particularly flavanols, which have potential positive effects on cognitive function,” study authors Chirag Vyas and Olivia Okereke told Newsweek . “Specifically, cocoa extract could boost cognition by providing antioxidants and reducing inflammation, and by improving blood flow, which helps the brain function better.” Cocoa beans To investigate these effects, the team studied a subset of 573 older individuals taken from the Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamin Outcomes Study (COSMOS)—a long-term study of over 21,000 older adults to investigate the impacts of cocoa supplementation and multivitamins on senior health.

In this subset study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , participants were given 500mg of cocoa extract per day over the course of two years. At the start and end of the study, participants were asked to complete a series of tasks to test their overall cognition, memory and attention.

Overall, they did not find any significant association between cocoa supplementation and cognition. But one group of individuals did see some positive effects. “While there were no differences between cocoa extract and placebo when looking at cognitive function in the entire clinic sample, we found that cocoa extract resulted in better cognitive function among those who had lower diet at study enrolment,” Vyas and Okereke said. “So, our findings add support to the idea that cocoa flavanols can boost cognitive function among the at-risk group of older people who have lower diet quality.”

It is important to note here that this cocoa supplementation is not the same as eating a bar of chocolate every day. “[Our] cocoa extract supplement that contains levels of cocoa flavanols that greatly surpass what a person could consume from chocolate without adding excessive calories to their diet,” Vyas and Okereke said. More work needs to be done to investigate this relationship and the potential therapeutic use of cocoa supplementation for at-risk older adults, but this study marks an important step in the research on this topic.

“Our findings shed light on the potential benefits of cocoa extract supplement for cognitive function among older people with lower diet quality,” Vyas and Okereke said. “This is important because some older people, for health or other reasons, may be facing the issue of low diet quality.

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“Also, it would be interesting for future studies to replicate our findings and to investigate further some of the mechanisms by which cocoa extract influences cognitive function.”

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