Cocoa antioxidant sweetens cognition in elderly

Flavanols in very high doses helped people distinguish patterns in a small study

Chocolate bars

High doses of cocoa flavanols may aid performance in certain memory tasks. But these antioxidants are removed during chocolate processing.

Tim Sackton/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Extremely high doses of cocoa flavanols may improve older people’s ability to distinguish one complex pattern from another — or at least so says a study partially funded by the chocolate company Mars Inc., which also sells a cocoa extract high in flavanols. Thirty-seven adults ages 50 to 69 who consumed 900 milligrams of the antioxidants every day for three months experienced increased blood flow in the hippocampus, a brain area associated with learning and memory. The volunteers also were better at remembering and differentiating visual patterns than people who didn’t get extra flavanols.

Alas, the study does not support eating chocolate. Most flavanols are removed during chocolate processing, and the study’s dose was more than 10 times as high as the flavanol levels in most dark chocolates.

Still, the authors hypothesize that high quantities of cocoa flavanols might help prevent cognitive decline. The study appears October 26 in Nature Neuroscience.

Bethany was previously the staff writer at Science News for Students. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

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