Researchers are trying hard to find ways to stave off progressive brain decline by enhancing cognitive function.
One of the most devastating diseases, dementia is a general term for a group of symptoms associated with the progressive deterioration of the brain.
Although the relationship between diet and brain decline is complex, certain nutrients have been shown to promote cognitive health, which may offer some protection.
One of the most surprising findings in this area is the role that eating dark chocolate may play in enhancing cognitive function.
“There is good evidence that cocoa flavonoids can sharply improve cognitive function in humans, possibly through mechanisms such as increased cerebral blood flow,” researchers wrote in a study published in the journal Nutrients.
Flavonoids can be found in dark chocolate and cocoa, among other foods.
The aim of this study was to explore whether benefits to episodic verbal memory and mood could be observed two hours after consuming a commercially available dark chocolate bar compared to a 35g white chocolate.
98 healthy adults, aged 18 to 24, consumed either 35g of dark chocolate or a bar of white chocolate that was low in flavonoids and low in calories.
The assessment of memory and verbal episodic mood occurred before consumption and two hours after consumption.
The researchers said the results showed that dark chocolate was associated with better verbal memory performance for “several outcome measures” when compared to white chocolate. However, there was no effect on mood, the researchers said.
The researchers concluded: “These findings support the idea that daily available portions of dark chocolate may confer brain benefits in healthy consumers.”
Several previous studies have linked chocolate consumption to improved cognitive scores, but no definitive conclusions can be drawn.
A review published in Frontiers in Nutrition analyzed the evidence to date that flavanols may benefit human brain function.
Flavanols are a form of flavonoids, which are plant substances that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
A key finding of the review was that long-term consumption may be beneficial.
One study found that among adults ages 50 to 69, those who took a high-flavanol cocoa supplement for three months performed better on memory tests than those who took a low-flavanol cocoa supplement.
Several studies have found evidence of improved brain blood flow, oxygen levels, or nerve function as measured by imaging tests or tests of electrical activity in the brain after consuming cocoa drinks.
But because these changes were not routinely associated with improved performance on cognitive tasks, it is difficult to link the results directly to better brain function.
Ultimately, the researchers suggest that while these findings are encouraging and interesting, more research is needed, especially since most studies to date have been small and many have not been able to eliminate the possibility of a placebo effect.
In addition, these studies cannot account for many other variables that can affect brain function (such as medical problems, cognitive function at baseline, or drug use).