A new study suggests that consuming more flavanol, a component of cocoa, improves cognitive function and blood pressure in elderly patients who have mild cognitive impairment.
In the study, elderly patients with mild cognitive impairment consumed drinks that were either low, intermediate or high in cocoa flavanol. Cognitive function -- including executive function, short-term and long-term memory, processing speed and overall thinking skills -- was tested after eight weeks. Scores improved in patients who drank intermediate and high levels of flavanol.
"This is the first dietary intervention study demonstrating that the regular consumption of cocoa flavanols might be effective in improving cognitive function in elderly subjects with mild cognitive impairment," wrote study author Giovambattista Desideri, associate professor of internal medicine and public health at the University of L'Aquila in Italy.
A recent study found that dark chocolate reduces the risk of heart problems. Flavanols, which can also be found in tea and in dark fruits such as red grapes, cherries and apples, are also known to help with kidney function, weight problems, anemia, gout, diabetes and stroke.
However, the study had no control group. In other words, people who consumed a large amount of the cocoa flavanols were compared to those who consumed less, not people who had consumed none at all.
Also the eight-week trial was short. As this article mentions, since flavonols are known to improve heart function in the short term, it is possible that the improvements in cognitive function were just a result of improved blood flow to the brain not because of the cocoa flavanols.