High flavanol cocoa can boost brain functioning, finds Mars study

By Oliver Nieburg

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High flavanol cocoa can boost brain functioning, finds Mars study
Cocoa flavanols can improve mild cognitive impairment, according to new research funded by chocolate giant Mars.

A study by Desideri et al.​ published in the American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension found that cognitive functioning, including memory and processing speed, improved in elderly study participants with mild cognitive impairment when drinking a high flavanol cocoa drink daily.

According to the American Heart Association over 6% of people aged 70 plus develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition involving memory loss that can progress to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers said that flavanols in cocoa products could reduce the risk of dementia.

They suggest that flavanols may alter the brain structure and function by protecting neurons responsible for memory from injury.

Desideri et al​. added that flavanols may also help by improving blood flow.

The authors conclusions come soon after The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a positive opinion on a health claim from chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut linking cocoa to improved blood flow. (See HERE​)

Last month, ConfectioneryNews.com also reported on a study in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology that reviewed relevant literature and claimed that chocolate could improve brain functioning and mood. (See HERE​)

Improving cognitive function

Lead author Giovambattista Desideri said of the latest research: “This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function.”

 “The positive effect on cognitive function may be mainly mediated by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function.”


In Desideri et al.’s ​study, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment were given one of three dairy-based cocoa flavanol drinks for eight weeks: 990 milligrams (high), 520 mg (intermediate) or 45 mg (low).

They were told not to consume other sources of flavanols from food and beverages during the trial period.

The researchers measured changes in cognitive function through neuro-psychological tests of executive function, working memory, short-term memory, long-term episodic memory, processing speed and global cognition.

They found that scores for motor responses, task-switching and verbal and working memory improved significantly for those consuming high and intermediate flavanol drinks.

Those drinking higher flavanols dose drink were found to have much higher overall cognitive functioning than those drinking lower levels.

Insulin resistance accounted for almost 40% of improved scores as blood pressure and oxidative stress was also seen to decrease in those drinking high and intermediate flavanols drinks.

The researchers encouraged larger scale studies to validate their findings and noted that their sample size was not completely representative of all mild cognitive impairment patients as all participants in their study were in good health and without cardiovascular disease.


American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension
‘Benefits in Cognitive Function, Blood Pressure, and Insulin Resistance Through Cocoa Flavanol Consumption in Elderly Subjects With Mild Cognitive Impairment’
DOI: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.112.193060
Authors: Catherine Kwik-Uribe, Davide Grassi, Stefano Necozione, Lorenzo Ghiadoni, Daniela Mastroiacovo,, Angelo Raffaele, Livia Ferri, Raffaella Bocale, Maria Carmela Lechiara, Carmine Marini, and Claudio Ferri.

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Response: Flavanols in normal cocoa

Posted by Oliver Nieburg,

I can't comment on powdered cocoa, but there are more flavanols in dark chocolate than milk or white varieties. This study indicates the flavanoid content in each type: http://bit.ly/PfFgzR

The flavanol content is also affected by the chocolate making process, including type of cocoa tree, country of origin and drying temperatures. http://bit.ly/Lwpgp8

Mars has a high flavanol cocoa extract supplement called CocoaVia

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How much flavanols in "normal" cocoa?

Posted by chris aylmer,

How does this high flavanol cocoa compare with the average powdered cocoa available in shops? After processing, including "dutching" with alkali, how much flavanol is likely to be left? Is this high flavanol cocoa available to buy from Mars?

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