Cognitive Benefits Of Dark Chocolate And Cocoa

While sweet treats often get a bad rap, typically because of the overwhelming sugar content within, there is some specific benefits that can be obtained when you include dark chocolate and natural cocoa into your diet. While some may argue that having a daily chocolate habit can’t be a good thing, it is as long as the amounts of chocolate consumed aren’t too big and the sugar content isn’t too much. It’s important to note that the options with less sugar are preferred. You can get unsweetened cocoa powder and naturally rich dark chocolate in your grocer’s candy and baking aisle.

A recent study found that overall cognitive function was improved after the daily intake of cocoa flavanols. Researchers have been trying to ascertain what type of acute effect the cocoa flavanols may have on specific cognitive experiences and processes. Italian researchers sought to find out what happens to the brain only a couple of hours after cocoa flavanols are consumed. They also considered what type of cognitive improvements could be measured from daily consumption.

The Trial

A randomized and controlled trial was launched to investigate the improvement of cognitive functions in the face of these cocoa flavanols. Those participants that consumed these flavanols on a continual basis showed noticeable enhancements in their working memory performance as well as increased processing of visual information. For many women, it was found that eating a piece of dark chocolate or consuming hot cocoa after a night of sleep deprivation can counteract the cognitive impairment that occurs. Cognitive impairment in such situations usually looks like less accuracy when performing tasks that require premium focus.

It does need to be mentioned that these findings are more noticeable in those who are in their mid life or older. For individuals who are considered young and healthy, the high demand in cognitive testing is necessary to ascertain specific behavioral changes. For those who are older and who consume these cocoa flavanols on a consistent basis, their overall cognitive framework and cognitive abilities take a notable and impressive uptick. Things like verbal fluency, attention to detail, processing speed and working memory are tremendously improved.

The Factors

The reason that these factors are likely more noticeable in older individuals is because of the normal memory decline that tends to happen at a certain age. This is also true of individuals that have suffered from some type of cognitive impairment that occurred as a result of a minor injury that may have resulted in a concussion.

Michele Ferrara and Valentina Socci from the University of L’Aquila in Italy explain: “This result suggests the potential of cocoa flavanols to protect cognition in vulnerable populations over time by improving cognitive performance. 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.”

It can be difficult for some to make dark chocolate or cocoa a consistent part of their dietary patterns because of other aspects of the food that is linked to caloric value, caffeine content, milk content and sugar amounts. So with these specific factors in mind, sometimes consistent consumption of chocolate is a bit harder to navigate. But the darker the chocolate the better it is for you and potential brain power.