Professor Ian MacDonald, professor of physiology at the University of Nottingham in the UK said yesterday that he had found cocoa flavonols could increase blood flow to key areas of the brain.
In a study on 16 healthy young women, the researcher tested the brain's activation during cognitive tasks using functional MRI.
The subjects consumed the flavonol-rich CocoaVia drink made by Mars once a day for five days prior to the study. The drink contains 150mg of flavonols.
"We found that high cocoa flavonol drink was associated with a higher blood flow response to selective areas of the brain," he told NutraIngredients.com.
"We cannot say that this improved cognition as these women were already performing the tasks well," he noted. "But blood flow is associated with brain function."
He added that further research should look at whether the flavonols offered any benefit on occasions when people are tired or for people with mild cognitive difficulties.
The increased blood flow could result from a similar mechanism to that seen in the benefits on heart health, said Professor MacDonald.
"It is potentially another vascular effect," he said.
Previous studies have shown that cocoa flavanols appear to increase synthesis of nitric oxide by blood vessels, increasing blood flow.
Researchers at the University Hospital in Zurich and Harvard Medical School also reported at the conference that similar increases in blood flow can be achieved among people with diabetes. This suggests that cocoa flavanols could aid in treatment of serious vascular complications associated with long-term diabetes.
Other findings reported at the conference included research done in the University of California that has identified the specific molecules that can explain the reduced platelet aggregation seen after cocoa flavanol consumption.