Consuming cocoa flavanols daily was shown to increase attention, verbal fluency, working memory tasks, and cognitive processing.
It turns out that chocolate helps your ability to think, but only if you have enough of it, preferably daily. That may seem like some foggy residue of last night’s dream, but it’s actually the result of a recent review of available research.
Italian researchers Valentina Socci and Michele Ferrara from the University of L'Aquila in Italy recently published their findings in Frontiers in Nutrition. They looked at the research available on what happens to the brain when it is exposed to a compound in cocoa known as flavanols, both in the short term, and when that exposure is consistent over a longer period of time.
Flavanols seem to affect brain cells in three ways: they protect vulnerable neurons, they enhance the function of neurons, and they signal pathways in the brain that lead to the survival and growth of neurons. One interesting action of them is that, similar to high intensity exercise, they promote the expression of BDNF, which has been called ‘fertilizer for the brain’. When areas of the brain that play a key role in memory, such a the hippocampus, benefit from BDNF, brain cells are regenerated, and memory can be preserved.
The effects of daily consumption of cocoa flavanols seems to be especially helpful in the aging population, and shows the greatest promise in improving cognition in those who have experienced a decline in their cognitive abilities. Consuming flavanols daily was shown to increase attention, verbal fluency, working memory tasks, and cognitive processing.
One important finding of the review is that the quality of cocoa matters. High flavanol dark chocolate or cocoa drinks were effective in creating changes in the brain, but chocolate with low levels of flavanol, (such as milk chocolate), did not provide any useful cognitive benefits.
While there is still more research to be done to fully understand the promising effects of cocoa flavanols on brain health, it seems there will be no shortage of volunteers who would be more than willing to take on the treatment of a daily dose of high quality chocolate.