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British and American scientists have recently shown that eating cocoa flavanols may be good for the brain. According to their research, a cocoa flavanol-rich diet may help people recover more quickly after a vascular event and, in particular, perform better in highly complex tests.

 

The flavonoids family

Cocoa flavanols belong to the larger flavonoids family, found in a variety of foods, including grapes, berries, apples, strawberries, soya and tea. Flavonoids can actually be divided into six subgroups: flavanols, found in cocoa beans, in particular; anthocyanidines, present in large quantities in berries; flavones, contained in parsley and celery; flavonols, supplied by cabbage and apples; flavonones found in citrus fruits; and isoflavones which are abundant in soybeans. All flavonoids are powerful antioxidants contributing to good cardiometabolic health.1

Recently, flavonoids have been being increasingly vaunted for their brain-stimulating capacities, thanks, in particular, to the dietary intake of cocoa flavonols. According to a team of American and British researchers, eating cocoa flavanols may result in more efficient tissue oxygenation in the frontal regions of the brain. To reach this conclusion, the scientists conducted a double-blind study in young adults with good general and cognitive health who were non-smokers and had no known cerebrovascular, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases.

 

Greater brain oxygenation in people eating cocoa flavanols

The international team recruited 18 male volunteers for a double-blind study conducted in two stages with the same participants. For the first part of the study, the participants were given a high-flavanol cocoa drink before breathing air containing 5% carbon dioxide, in order to challenge the cerebrovascular system. Then, two weeks later, for the second part of the study, the participants were given a low-flavanol cocoa drink before also breathing in CO2.

Fourteen of the 18 participants had a faster and greater brain oxygenation response following exposure to cocoa flavanols. They achieved excellent results in the hardest cognitive challenges, with 11% solving the problems more successfully than the other 4 participants. They also responded faster than they did following their low-flavanol cocoa intake. The researchers thus conclude that, in the majority of cases, flavanols lead to improvements in cerebrovascular reactivity and prefrontal-dependent cognitive performance in healthy volunteers. They also confirm the benefits of flavanol on peripheral endothelial function.2

 

Sources

  1. Morand, Christine. (2014). Intérêt des aliments riches en flavonoïdes pour le maintien de la santé cardio-métabolique. Médecine des Maladies Métaboliques. 8. 10.1016/S1957-2557(14)70860-0.

  2. Gratton, G., Weaver, S.R., Burley, C.V. et al. Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults. Sci Rep 10, 19409 (2020).