Cocoa Flavanols May Slow Mild Dementia

August 14, 2012

A 90-person study looks at different doses.

Elderly experiencing mild dementia could benefit from cocoa flavanol consumption, according to a study published in the journal Hypertension.

Many foods, including cocoa, provide flavanols to the diet. And while studies suggest that these phytonutrients can support vascular and cognitive health, food processing can significantly reduce their active levels in finished goods.

Italian researchers assigned 90 elderly subjects with mild dementia to consume a dairy drink standardized for 990 mg, 520 mg, or 45 mg of cocoa flavanols. Subjects were required to consume the beverage daily for eight weeks, while no other sources of flavanols were allowed in their diets. The researchers assessed each subject for changes in insulin resistance, blood glucose, oxidative stress, and a variety of brain health functions.

Subjects who consumed high (990 mg) or medium (520 mg) levels of cocoa flavanols experienced an overall improvement in insulin resistance, blood pressure, and oxidative stress. Those who consumed the low, 45-mg dosage did not see significant benefits in these areas. Similarly, only the high- and medium-flavanol drinkers saw improvements in a variety of brain function tests relating to motor responses, working memory, task-switching, and verbal memory. Only subjects in the high-dose group showed higher overall cognitive scores compared with the low-dose group.

“This study provides encouraging evidence that consuming cocoa flavanols, as a part of a calorie-controlled and nutritionally-balanced diet, could improve cognitive function,” said study author Giovambattista Desideri, MD of the University of L’Aquila in Italy. “The positive effect on cognitive function may be mainly mediated by an improvement in insulin sensitivity. It is yet unclear whether these benefits in cognition are a direct consequence of cocoa flavanols or a secondary effect of general improvements in cardiovascular function.”

The researchers concluded that their study is the first dietary intervention study to demonstrate an improvement in elderly subjects with mild dementia after consuming cocoa flavanols.

Mars Inc. provided funding and cocoa drinks for the study.