Researchers reviewed all the studies that have individually told you great things about chocolate and reached conclusions previous studies could not individually reach.
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At the risk of turning every week into alternating series of Valentine’s Days and Halloween nights, researchers have recently concluded that people may be benefitting from cognitive boosts within just hours of consuming cocoa flavanols. In other words, chocolate may yield a greater benefit for cognitive function than initially believed.
Researchers reached their conclusion and, in the process, also observed that one’s intake of said cocoa flavanols, if long-term and regular, may very well serve to safeguard against declining cognitive ability. These flavanols are organic compounds that occur in nature and are extracted from a myriad of different plants. They are found most frequently in cocoa tree beans. They also contain antioxidants, which can mitigate the consequences that oxidative stress causes when it damages cells.
Studies are now looking at flavanols and concluding that they measurably enhance the functions of blood vessels and, in turn, this can also lower blood pressure, which is something many people need on a regular basis as instructed by their physicians for a variety of ailments, chief among them heart and cardiovascular disease.
Flavanols, to be clear, are not a new discovery. They’ve been studied and observed repeatedly in the past, which is why scientists continue to research them. Every so often, new benefits emerge about which no one was aware. The boon to cognitive function, especially within this considerably short timeframe, was discussed in a recent review published in the academic journal, Frontiers in Nutrition. The research itself was handled by a team from the University of L’Aquila in Italy, led by Valentina Socci.
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The studies of the past have linked the intake of cocoa flavanols to cognition improvements before, typically citing dark chocolate in particular as the optimal source for the aforementioned health benefits. This new research that Socci and her team conducted, though, goes deeper into the how and the why of cocoa flavanols’ relation to cognitive benefits. They wanted to accrue more information and data about this correlation, so they conducted a very comprehensive review of preexisting studies that involved cocoa flavanols and improvements to cognition.
This eventually led Socci and her team to look more closely at the timeframe in which cognitive function might actually manifest these benefits in response to the consumption of cocoa flavanols, and they found significant benefits attributable to flavanols in lieu of the small quantity of randomized controlled trials that have actually focused on the short-term effects of cocoa flavanols apropos of cognition.
Some of the most significant evidence that the team was able to recover in their research was that of a correlation between cocoa flavanols’ effects and specifically one’s functional memory, much of which is comprised of short-term memory. In a particular study that they reviewed, for example, there were documented improvements in working memory for young adults participating in the study merely two hours after their consumption of cocoa flavanols to the tune of about 773 milligrams.
Socci’s team also looked at another study wherein it was concluded that cocoa flavanol consumption could stave off the negative effects sleep deprivation have on cognition. On the other hand, though, the authors of that particular study conceded that this and other similarly acute effects of the consumption of cocoa flavanols were only measurable in relation to certain types of cognitive assessments involved in the studies. The length of said assessments was also said to be a significant factor. Even so, though, the authors of that study observed a requirement for greater, cognitive tests for them to notice any measurable differences or benefits from the cocoa flavanol.
Most of the studies conducted on cocoa flavanol consumption effects on cognitive function as it pertains to long-term effects specifically, though, involved primarily elderly people, according to Socci’s team. They found that most studies relied primarily on elderly participants, and this fact led them down a road toward finding that cocoa flavanols improved processing speed, attention, working memory and verbal fluency for a minimum of five days and a maximum of three months.
Socci and her team also concluded that benefits from cocoa flavanol are strongest for elders with mild decline in cognitive function or working memory because such were the participants who showed the most positive results across the board in the related studies that Socci’s team reviewed.
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“This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance,” according to co-authors Michele Ferrara and Valentina Socci. “If you look at the underlying mechanism, the cocoa flavanols have beneficial effects for cardiovascular health and can increase cerebral blood volume in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus,” they add.
“This structure is particularly affected by aging and therefore the potential source of age-related memory decline in humans,” Socci and Ferrara say. The team writes, “Regular intake of cocoa and chocolate could indeed provide beneficial effects on cognitive functioning over time,” though they warn that the sugar and calories in chocolate are still a concern of a different sort altogether.