As if people needed
another excuse to like chocolate, new studies suggest
a specially formulated type of cocoa may boost brain function
and delay decline as people age, researchers said.
Scientists, speaking at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science
in San Francisco, presented results from early studies
testing the effects on the brain of flavanols, an ingredient
found in cocoa.
Funded by candy maker Mars Inc., which provided a specially
formulated liquid cocoa concoction for the research,
the studies suggest that flavanols increase blood flow
to the brain and may hold promise for treating some
Mars, a private company, has made a study of the health
benefits of cocoa. Its CocoaVia line of chocolates,
made with a process that retains flavanols, have been
shown in clinical trials to have benefits for the heart.
The latest research also suggests benefits for the
Ian Macdonald of Britain's University of Nottingham
Medical School, conducted a small brain imaging study
on young, healthy women to see whether flavanol-rich
cocoa helped boost cognitive function during challenging
Although the beverage did not improve their performance
on the tests, it did increase blood flow to their brains
for a two to three-hour period, Macdonald said.
He believes more research might show that increased
blood flow could benefit older adults and those who
have cognitive impairments, such as fatigue or even
A U.S. study of healthy adults over 50 also found a
marked rise in blood flow. It was conducted by Harvard
Medical School researcher Dr. Norman Hollenberg, who
has studied the effects of cocoa and flavanols on Panama's
Kuna Indian population.
Hollenberg believes that, while promising, the brain
benefit needs to be verified.
"The only way we can prove something is working is
a large clinical trial," he said.
Meanwhile, the researchers cautioned against rushing
out to binge on the special Mars line of chocolates.
"It is a modest calorie load but it is a calorie load,"
Macdonald said. "As long as you are doing something
to earn that 100 calories, then that's fine."