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